Archives as a source of love to be cherished: O.R. Tambo and Adelaide Tambo.
There is another way in which we can begin to think about archives, in particular personal archives. Archives also keep records and documents that speak about how the leaders of liberation movements kept their families together by sharing love. This is well demostrated in the two-way correspondence between O. R. Tambo and his wife, Adelaide Tambo. When reading such personal letters you begin to see that it was not only Tambo`s determination and commitment that kept him going, but the love and support of his family kept the flame in him burning. Mrs Tambo used to refer to her husband as Papa instead of O.R. I am intrigued by a line in her letter where she says, â€œI just want to say that we miss you so much, when are you coming home? I love [you]â€¦whatever happens we are 100% behind youâ€ (Letter from Adelaide Tambo to O.R. Tambo 03 May 1981). You can see that that extensive travelling that O. R. did was a challenge to his wife and children. Adelaide longed for affection and the marital duties that her husband would have offered, but due to travelling from one place to another it was difficult for O. R. to spend ample time with his family. This is displayed when Mrs Tambo asks, â€œâ€¦when are you coming home?â€
Love and support was fundamental in the work that O. R. Tambo was doing. Mrs Tambo was that source of love, support and emotional security to her revolutionary husband. Even thousands of miles away from her husband Mrs Tambo was an inspiration to him, but missing O. R. as a husband and father to their children was always in her mind. In one of her letters to O. R., Mrs Tambo says, â€œIt seems as if its years since I heard from you, I hope you travelled safelyâ€¦we have been thinking about you all the time, it is very strenuous and unhappy time for most of us. And get there is always a to-morrow to look forward to and life has to go on even though itâ€™s a life with a string of tragedies and mishapsâ€ (Letter from Nomthandazo, 12-08-81).
O. R. was not only a husband to his loving wife but he was also an inspirational figure and a pillar of strength during challenging times. This is revealed in another letter from Mrs Tambo when she wrote to O.R. saying, â€œMy dear bhuti, Every time I try to write you I leave heavily, the longing is too much and the pain of missing you and your advice especially on family matters is beyond description. Just imagine Dalindlela is now a grown up man strong headed and stubborn like his fatherâ€¦we miss you, [we wish you] could be amongst us, we miss your charisma and honestyâ€¦we send you profound love.â€ (Letter from Nomthandazo, 19 April 1988).
As much as Mrs Tambo understood that her husband was the tireless leader of the revolution in South Africa that had to be sacrificed by her and their family, his absence due to a national duty left a vacuum in the family. The only thing that occupied that space was the constant two-way communication that was filled with love. How else could Mrs Tambo have kept her family together if it was not through love that was kept burning by all the exchange of these loaded love letters?
The entire Tambo family even kept the idea of an absent husband and father alive in the midst of family challenges. O. R.â€™s birthday was the most celebrated event in the Tambo family. The family celebrated Tambo`s birthday even during his busy schedule and his absence. One birthday card reads, â€œTo you Papa on your 65th Xmas, a 65th year is an important and special year, A 65 Xmas is an important and special Xmas. May this one bring you nearer to all the things that you love and cherish bestâ€¦from Delieâ€ (Birthday wishing card from Adelaide to O. R. Tambo, Undated). In a sense all the moments were used to share love with a man whose mission was to liberate his people from the bondage of oppression.
The love relationship of Mrs Tambo and her husband O. R. Tambo was a challenged relationship due to the struggle commitment that defined the life of the Tambo family. O. R. Tambo`s life demanded a woman of strong character and faith, just like Mrs Tambo was when she even sacrificed her job in order to look after their family. In a letter that she wrote to Tambo updating him about family developments Mrs Tambo stated, â€œThe time is 1:30 am. I have just finished doing Dali`s and Dudu`s laundry and getting things ready for returning to school to-morrow. I had to stay away from my job and lose itâ€ ( 8 November 1969). These were painful words but whose bedrock was the understanding of the notion of love that it is not immune from such challenges.
As we celebrate Valentineâ€™s month this February, which is about celebrating love in relationships and families, I wish for us to pause and ponder the relationships that have become a source of a lesson to learn from. Maybe at some point we need to think about whether to celebrate Valentineâ€™s or to celebrate the love relationship of leaders like Tambo who through thick and thin were sustained by love.
Valentineâ€™s encourages celebrating and cherishing of love but is often silent about difficulties in love and challenges that people experience. Valentineâ€™s is too romantic about love as if it is immune from challenges, contestations and temptations. However the story of love as contained in the love letters of Adelaide and O. R. Tambo is outright about the fact that love is challenging and love is a sacrifice but above all love is divine.
I am intrigued by these words of Mrs Tambo to her husband: â€œGod could not choose you to do this work if He was not going to support you but of course his ways are difficult and heavy but my belief is that you will succeed in leading our people to freedom with Godâ€™s help and our prayers. We send you oceans of loveâ€ ( letter from Mrs Tambo to Tambo, 3 May 1981).
It is those â€˜tonsâ€™ and â€˜oceans of loveâ€™ that sustained O. R. Tambo in leading the people of South Africa to the land of freedom, that opened the doors of Robben Island for Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and others to be released. It is this love whose source was Mrs Tambo that made Tambo to endure the pain of being alienated from his wife and children. It is this love that made O.R. Tambo to adopt the children of South Africa in exile irrespective of political persuasions.
With love every challenge can be surpassed and this is captured in the words of O. R. Tambo when he said, â€œI am backâ€¦I have devotedly watched over the organisation all these years. I now hand it back to you, bigger, stronger - intact. Guard the precious movementâ€ ( O.R. Tambo in Lullinicus, 2004). The precious words of Tambo were a manifestation of love undiluted.
Thank you, Mrs Adelaide Tambo, for your wonderful love letters and your expression of love that kept the flame in your husband burning for everyone to enjoy the fruits of freedom. The other freedom fighters were left languishing permanently in wilderness abandoned by their loved one in times of need, with no love letters, no whispering soft words, but pain and regret.
Thank you, O. R. Tambo, for opening your heart to be guided by the sincere love of your family. You cherished those tons and vast oceans of love with those who were alienated from their families. It is that love that kept the freedom fighters focused and determined.
May all the families who believed in love during times of challenge be kept together by love for many years to come.
Vuyani Booi is an Archival Platform correspondent based in the Eastern Cape. He writes in his personal capacity.