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Preserving the legacy of an ethical leader

Hosted by its Gauteng Region, Unisa, in partnership with the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, held a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signing ceremony and inaugural memorial lecture in honour of the late liberation struggle icon, Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo. The event, which took place on the last day of youth month, 30 June 2021, was themed "OR Tambo reimagined: Lessons in student leadership for contemporary South Africa".

In setting the scene, the Director of Unisa’s Gauteng Region, Moipone Masalesa, said that the event was meant to uphold the spirit of OR and Adelaide Tambo. She remarked: "We would definitely like the legacy to remain alive throughout our lives." Providing background on the importance of the partnership between Unisa and the foundation, Masalesa said that the aim is to promote and preserve the legacy of OR Tambo as a student leader.

She stated: "We would like to highlight the time that he spent as a student leader, especially at Unisa. Also, we look at the type of leadership that he was espousing, which is ethical and servant leadership." She added: "The partnership will, among others, elicit the collaborative projects, the Tambo Critical Thinking Debates Series – The Tambo Day, that will be held annually." Masalesa said that various activities will be conducted through Unisa’s main campus, and promote student research development in partnership with internal stakeholders.

Towards moral urgency

Prof Puleng LenkaBula

In her address, Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof Puleng LenkaBula said: "We should celebrate that in June this year, we commemorated the youth and young adults in the moral urgency as they seek to shape the future and present to whom they are entwined. Unisa is a social institution that has been created in order to advance the formation of the youth and young adults as intellectuals. Further, the university promotes and constructs knowledge and research."

The VC stated that the partnership between Unisa and the foundation celebrates and creates a multiplicity of platforms for more rigorous engagements in the institution and outside, where the legacy of Tambo is recorded, published and made accessible in varied formats. LenkaBula recalled Tambo’s legacy, which includes the pursuit of social justice, freedom for all and human dignity. She said: "His legacy is in line with Unisa’s mission of taking seriously the need to serve humanity and ensure access to higher education, particularly for the marginalised."

Turning her attention to Mama Adelaide Tambo, LenkaBula said: "She was a political and social activist, who held the wellbeing of her fellow human beings. She contributed to putting in place numerous projects that aimed at supporting people at the grassroots level." She added: "Mama Adelaide also worked towards encouraging the youth to use education as a lever for their transformation and input for the liberation struggle."

During the lecture, the MoU was signed by the VC and Duma Nkosi, the Chairperson of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, with Masalesa as a witness. Masalesa remarked that the focus was more on the leadership that Tambo displayed. "If our student leaders can reimagine, relive and reassess what the leadership of Tambo was, then we can get better leaders that can guide us tomorrow," said Masalesa.

Reflecting on the leadership of the African son of the soil

Natasha Allie

The Acting CEO of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, Natasha Allie briefly spoke on the ongoing project between Unisa and the foundation. She said: "It will be achieved through the newly established debates series (Tambo Day), and the many research documents that will be produced by young people on the lives of the Tambos." Allie also gave a background of the foundation.

Allie remarked: "Through all our projects, we teach people about the Tambo values, which include integrity, humility and selfless, servant leadership. The intention is to pass these values to the next generation of young leaders." Reflecting on Tambo’s academic and professional journey, Allie said that Tambo’s understanding of the importance of education and his hard work earned him a 20 pounds two-year scholarship from Unisa. "He was an outstanding and engaging teacher, a multi-tasker and an over-achiever."

The role of education and leadership

Prof Puleng Segalo

Incumbent of Unisa’s Chief Albert Luthuli Research Chair, Prof Puleng Segalo, reflected on Tambo’s journey and his great contribution in the African National Congress as its longest serving president. She described him as an empathetic leader who fought for human rights.

Segalo expressed her appreciation for how Oliver and Adelaide Tambo embraced the value of education and fought against social injustice. "Among others," Segalo said, "Ntate Tambo raised funds from international communities to give the children in exile both shelter and education, as he believed that they should finish their schooling before joining the military struggle." Segalo emphasised that education must inculcate critical thinkers with sharp reasoning skills to speak back and critique unjust laws, rules and systems. "Both Oliver and Adelaide Tambo were passionate about critical reasoning," she said.

As she concluded, Segalo strongly spoke against corruption in South Africa. She said: "The elderly in particular were close to Mama Adelaide’s heart, and she worked tirelessly to create safety zones for them." She continued: "Today, our elderly grandmothers live in fear of being attacked and raped by the youth in their own communities." Segalo strongly urged society to move beyond hashtags and one-line exclamations of disgust on social media.

Reimagining social justice and social change

Bafana Nhlapo

Bafana Nhlapo, an activist for social justice and an advocate for social change, raised a concern on how there is gradual loss of confidence in not just institutions of higher learning, but also various institutions in general. He said: "Like OR Tambo, we need to see beyond what our immediate reality dictates and the role that these institutions can play in the transformation of society."

Nhlapo stated: "Through this partnership, we can learn the ability to think differently and reimagine a South Africa and a world that are different." Nhlapo reiterated the importance of the society having the courage to imagine a country that, among others, has no shacks, no one goes to bed hungry, and where education is treated as a public good.

In her closing remarks, Dr Bunki Pitsoane, Head of Counselling Services at Unisa’s Gauteng Region, said that she hopes the university’s engagement with the foundation will yield fruitful results, where the youth will be the beneficiaries and emulate the ethos that OR Tambo embodied.

* By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

** Teaser image: Oliver & Adelaide Tambo Foundation

Publish date: 2021/07/06