Adelaide Frances (Tshukudu) Tambo, affectionately known as Ma- Tambo, wife of the late ANC leader Oliver Tambo, who passed away on the last day of January this year, aged 77, was laid to rest today in Johannesburg. In attendance to the funeral were Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, among other South African dignitaries, African leaders, diplomats, family members and thousands of ANC members.
Mr Mandela, who shared her birthday, said he mourned the "passing away of a close personal friend, a comrade and one of the great heroines of our nation. She was a mother to the liberation movement in exile, and a nationally revered figure in our new nation. We pay tribute to a life dedicated to freedom and service." President Mbeki affirmed that Ms Tambo's death "amounts to a loss to the entire country and the international community. We are mourning the early and untimely death of Ma-Tambo. She was a commanding general whose instinct told her to be nothing more than a foot soldier." Her son, one of her three surviving children, media personality Dali Tambo, said his mother was part of a generation of women who "endured so much, regretted so little. I am a fortunate son. I can take comfort on the shoulder of a nation in mourning."
Adelaide Tambo’s political life started at the age of 10 after a raid by the police, following a riot in Top Location, Vereeniging. A police officer had been killed, and Adelaide's ailing grandfather, aged 82, was among those who were arrested and taken to the town square. There the old man collapsed and Adelaide had to sit with him until he regained consciousness. The way the young policemen pushed him around and called him 'boy' made her swear to fight them till the end. This was in 1939 and at the time she was a primary school pupil at St Thomas Practicing School in Johannesburg. In 1944, she started working for the ANC as a courier, while studying at Orlando High. She had joined the school's debating society and it was during this time that Dr Malan was entrenching apartheid, which became a heated matter for most of the students.
At 18, Adelaide joined the ANC Youth League and was elected chairperson of the George Goch branch and one of her duties was to open branches of the Youth League in the Transvaal. Later, as a student nurse at Pretoria General Hospital, she met Oliver Tambo at a meeting of the Eastern township branch of the ANC and the two were married in December 1956. Their wedding was a true "struggle" event - three weeks before it took place, Oliver Tambo had been arrested and charged with high treason, along with 155 other ANC members, including the partner in his law firm, Nelson Mandela, in what became known as the ‘Treason Trial’. The wedding went ahead four days after the suspects were released on bail. But, on the way to the church, the bride, groom and best man were briefly arrested for violating the pass laws, and bundled into a police van. There was no honeymoon. After the wedding, it was back to court. The trial lasted for more than three years, ending in the acquittal of all the accused.
Following the massacre of Sharpeville in 1960, the anti-apartheid struggle led by the then banned ANC and SACP intensified, leading to the internationally known ‘Rivonia Trial’ of 1963-64, in which Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others were sentenced to life imprisonment, having faced the possibility of the death sentence. Oliver and Adelaide Tambo were asked by the ANC to leave the country in 1960 and to carry on the work of the organisation outside South Africa once they were settled. Adelaide resumed her work as a courier - this time for her husband. Based in London until the unbanning of all political parties, Adelaide became a founder member of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement and the Pan-African Women's Organisation (PAWO). She also assisted in identifying and financially assisting some of the families whose children left South Africa after the 1976 uprisings. The couple returned to South Africa in 1990 but Oliver died of a stroke in 1993 - a year before the country's first all-race democratic elections. She represented the ANC in parliament. Besides her work as the national Treasurer of the ANC Women’s League, Adelaide also occupied herself with work for people in old age homes. She had recently launched the Adelaide Tambo Trust for the Elderly.
In 2002, Adelaide Tambo received South Africa's top decoration - the Order of the Baobab in Gold - and was present at a ceremony last October to rename Johannesburg airport the O.R. Tambo International Airport, in honour of her late husband. In the 1990s, the Anglican Church in South Africa appointed her to the Order of Simon of Cyrene, the highest honour it can bestow on a lay person.