Ma Tambo as she was affectionately known was born on the 18th of July in 1929.
Mme Adelaide Frances Tambo (nee Tshukudu) was from a place called Top Location, Vereeniging in the Vaal Triangle.
Her Early Life🖤
Ma Tambo’s political career kick-started when she was only 10 years old, this was after she witnessed the police raids following an uprising in Top Location, Vereeniging an officer had been killed and Mama’s grandfather who was 82 at the time was humiliated and whipped by the police until he collapsed in the town square, her grandfather was among the arrested hence the public humiliation and lynching. Now because of his age you’d think the police would be sympathetic towards him but they showed no remorse and little care, they brutally beat him up until he collapsed and young Adelaide had to sit with her grandfather until he regained consciousness. The policemen who were young enough to be his children pushed him around calling him ‘boy’ this did not sit well with young Adelaide and it was at that moment where she was introduced to the ugly side of politics as she was to recount later in her life: “His brutal and humiliating treatment at the hands of the police was the trigger, the deciding factor.” this occurred in 1959 and she was a student at the St Thomas Practising School in Johannesburg.
In 1944 at the age of 15 Ma Tambo began working for the ANC as a courier while studying at the Orlando High School, Mama joined the debate society at school during the time Malan began his apartheid entrenching trip and that was a heated subject for most students.
AS THE YEARS WENT 🖤
Ma Tambo then joined the ANCYL at 18 and was elected Chairperson of the George Goch branch. One of her duties was to ensure that more YL branches were launched in the Transvaal. She successfully launched a branch when she was still a student a nurse at the Pretoria General Hospital with the help of these phenomenal women of color : Mme Sheila Musi; Mme Mildred Khuzwayo and Mme Nonhle Zokwe.
It was through the ANCYL that she met Tat’OR who wasted absolutely no time when it came to asking for her hand in marriage back in 1954, she accepted his proposal two years after and the two tied the knot in 1956 during the Treason Trial on December. The two were aware of the reality being that their activism would lead to their arrests and so they discussed their political involvement as well as the possibility of growing their family by having children, it was at that moment when they decided that one would have to be afull-timer in the field of politics while the other had to take full charge of the family matters which also included giving support to the elderly of both their families.
Today in 1956 Ma Tambo was among the 20 000 women who took part in the Women’s March at the Pretoria Union Buildings. The December of that year 3 weeks prior her wedding to her husband 155 leading members of the ANC including Tat’OR were arrested and charged with treason.
After the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960 when the lives of our people were stripped from them by the police who opened fire using live ammunition during their protest against the pass laws the ANC asked the Tambo family to lead the organization from exile once they were settled. Her husband left and she followed a few months later, in London she continued to work as a nurse to support the family also resuming her courier post but for her husband who traveled extensively Mama became a founding member of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Movement and the Pan-African Women’s Organization. She also assisted in identifying and offered financial assistance to some of the families whose children left south Africa after the 1976 uprisings.
In an extract Paul Joseph writes:
While exiled in London, Adelaide Tambo was a very active member of the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement. She had a strong physical presence – reinforced by a variety of African headdresses and garments – a booming voice and laughed a lot. With her commanding personality, sometimes almost intimidating, she had an ability to get results; she knew just about every African and Asian ambassador and was highly regarded by the diplomatic corps.
Her closest friends were Canon John Collins and his wife Diana, and Bishop Trevor Huddleston, but she had many others in Britain, the US, Europe and Africa. She gave lavish parties in her home in Muswell Hill, north London, where actors, writers, journalists and political figures often visited. But she also held down a job at the nearby Whittington hospital, and did agency work as a district nurse, sometimes putting in up to 20 hours a day.
In the ANC woman’s section, a non-African woman once suggested a speakers’ study class for women, but Adelaide strongly rejected that. She said, “African women do not need a speakers’ study class. They have enough experiences of oppression under apartheid that they can articulate without difficulty.”
During his later years Tat’OR fell seriously ill and is believed to have suffered a stroke. The couple returned to South Africa in 1990 following the release of Mandela and the unbanning of political organizations. Mandela insisited Tat’OR remained president of the ANC.
Mama was a member of South Africa’s democratically elected parliament from 1994-1999 my birth year, one of the many things I love Mama for was her honesty she did not stand for a second term! we could learn a thing or too comrades. She allowed others the chance! A queen…
Mama Tambo led 11 members of the ANCWL National executive which she had rebuilt after her return to South Africa, in a walk-out protesting at Mama Winnie’s presidency of the organisation and the disappearance of funds. Besides her work as the national Treasurer of the ANCWL, Mme Adelaide also occupied herself with community work caring for the elderly in old age homes also launching the Adelaide Tambo Trust for the elderly and was honorary life patron of the Cape Town City Ballet.
Mama’s contribution to the liberation struggle and her commitment to community projects earned her several awards, namely the Noel Foundation Life Award for initiating the anti-apartheid movement in Britain followed by the 1st OR Tambo /Johnny Makhatini freedom award in February 1995 followed by the order of Simon Cyene for her work for the Anglican Church and disadvantaged communities in July 1997 this is the highest order given by the Anglican church for distinguished service by lay people, and in 2002 the order of the Baobab in Gold.
Mama passed away on the 31st of January 2007 on a Wednesday in her Hyde Park home at the age of 77. She was given a state funeral. The funeral which was held at the Watteville stadium in Ekurhuleni was attended by thousands and among the mourners was the late former president of Zambia Tat’Kenneth Kaunda, Mama was laid to rest next to her husband in the Tamboville Cemetery named in their honor. The Tambos are survived by their three children and their children🖤
Ma Tambo’s story and the life she lived is not only a beautiful one but an inspiration, she was a sister, a friend and a mother to those around her, she led with grace and humility and never changed the person she was in order for her to be accepted she embraced her africanness and was able to fill the void between the ‘educated ones’ and the oppressed through speaking her truth and standing her ground. She advocated for African women to be accepted as they were irregardless of their way of articulation because she understood how oppression impacted their lives. Mama’s spirit continues to live on in the lives of the women from Ekurhuleni, I see it in the way the veterans of the women’s league handle situations I am beyond blessed having to witness the resilience she embodied shine through the words and actions of the women I have crossed paths with the likes of Mme Aunty Nyathela, the late Sister B, Mme Dora Mlambo, Mme Ntombi Mekgwe and even the young phenomenal women in the region to mention a few: The Late Zizipho Daweti-Fatule, Moipone Mhlongo,Precious Dumane, Mmasetshaba Makhubedu, Bontle Pasha, Zandile Tshabalala, Buhle Nkosi, Sindiswa Xupu, Aphiwe Mpame and others. These women are far from being perfect but they are why I pride myself in the region I come from because Mama’s spirit lives in us and it continues to shine through the women of this region.