ADELAIDE TAMBO  18 July 1929 - 31 January 2007

Radio Today’s patron, Adelaide Tambo, the widow of former ANC leader Oliver Tambo, and an anti-apartheid activist and liberation heroine in her own right, passed away on January 31, 2007. She was 77 years old.

Born in an African township near Vereeniging on July 18, 1929, she eventually supported her family -- and the country’s liberation struggle in exile -- by working as a nursing sister. Adelaide Tambo married ANC president Oliver Tambo in 1956 and they were married until his passing.

When Adelaide Tambo returned to South Africa after her family’s thirty year exile, she said, "The future of the country is in our hands. Let's take up the challenge.
Mrs. Tambo remembered that she had been introduced to this country’s politics at the age of 10, following a police raid in Vereeniging. Her ailing 82-year-old grandfather was arrested and flogged at the town square where he collapsed. “I sat with him until he regained consciousness," she recounted. "His brutal and humiliating treatment at the police's hands was the triggering and deciding factor. I swore I would fight them till the end.
When she was 15 years old, she tried to join the African National Congress. She reminisced later "The organiser said I was too young to become an ANC member, but since I was so keen to be politically active he agreed to let me act as a courier for the branch.
Three years later she became a member of the ANC Youth League and was quickly elected chair of her local branch. She met the man who would eventually become her husband at the launch of a new branch of the Youth League.Adelaide Tambo was one of the 20 000 women who marched on Pretoria's Union Building in protest against the pass laws in 1956.
When Oliver Tambo left South Africa after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, she followed a few months later where she was reunited with Oliver in London. She remembered, "I soon had to realise that he was now fully involved and that my role was going to be to take responsibility for the family" and so she worked as a nurse to support their family while her husband travelled on behalf of the ANC.
Adelaide Tambo recalled later that when they had married, "we both realised it would be have to be an unusual relationship. Sometimes he would pass through London only twice a year.
The Tambo's London home soon became a base for many exiles and students who sought refuge and transited through Britain.While she was in exile, she founded the Afro-Asian Women solidarity in Egypt, was a member of the All African Women's Congress and a member of the International Anti-Apartheid Movement. She was recipient of the Noel Foundation Life Award for initiating the anti-apartheid movement in Britain.
Adelaide led the anti-apartheid movement in London and was in the forefront of demonstrations calling for Mandela's freedom and that of other political detainees. She also managed to collect all of Oliver's speeches which she published in 1991.
Tambo was the first recipient of the Oliver Tambo/Johnny Makatini freedom award in February 1995. The award recognises the faith, courage and sacrifice of an individual during the freedom struggle.

As a campaigner for human rights, Tambo was also awarded the Order of Simon of Cyrene in July 1997 for her active an outstanding and untiring commitment to the Anglican church and disadvantaged communities. The order is the highest honour that can be bestowed on a lay person by the Church of the Province of Southern Africa.
Adelaide Tambo was elected to parliament for the ANC after the country's first democratic elections in 1994, but decided not to serve a second five-year term and after her retirement from politics, she actively involved herself in community work with elderly people in Benoni. She also worked with - as she preferred to call them - differently-abled children in Soweto.
Radio Today listeners sometimes met her at one of the churches in the station’s neighbourhood or at a well-known local bakery where she personally collected bread for her various community programs.
Asked how she would like to be remembered, Adelaide Tambo said: " As a servant of my people."
The management, staff, listeners and friends of Radio Today all join in sending our deepest condolences to the Tambo family. We will miss her presence among us.

J. Brooks Spector
Radio Today cultural and arts commentator, retired American diplomat and visiting senior lecturer, International Relations Department, U. of the Witwatersrand