Item 861 - Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the naming of the Tambo Memorial Hospital

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Speech by President Nelson Mandela at the naming of the Tambo Memorial Hospital


  • 1998-04-16 (Creation)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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South African Government Information Website

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Naming of the Tambo Memorial Hospital

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  • English

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Premier Motshekga;
Members of the Provincial Executive Council and Legislature;
Hospital Superintendent and staff;
Distinguished guests,

It gives me the deepest joy to be with you when your hospital takes the name of my great friend and comrade, Oliver Reginald Tambo.

It seems entirely appropriate that Comrade O.R. should be associated not with some international airport, nor even with a fine university - but with a public hospital near the town he called home, where the daily business is to serve those who are ill in distress.

Many of you may not know that Oliver Tambo's dream, after he matriculated with distinction in 1938, was to become a medical doctor. But in the South Africa of official racism black men and women were excluded from every medical school in the country. The only option was to study abroad for those who could afford it.

Tambo could not countenance this blatant discrimination. He opted instead for a teaching degree in science. In his broader vision for our country, he aspired to heal and empower the disadvantaged, both in body and in mind.


In replacing old names with new at public institutions, we should always seek to promote unity and nation-building. Anyone who stops to think about the life and achievements of Oliver Tambo will know that we are fulfilling that aim today. He was not only the longest-serving president of the ANC, he was also a national leader whose historical importance transcends party boundaries. As Mahatma Gandhi was to India, so Oliver Tambo is to South Africa.

For many South Africans, these words are but the bare statement of facts about a revered leader. But for others they may be hard to appreciate. This is not surprising. Much of Oliver Tambo's most significant work was done in the 30 years he spent in exile when the minority government made it a crime to report his words.

When he was asked, after the Sharpeville Massacre, to leave the country in order to continue the struggle from outside, he accepted without hesitation. He gave up everything in order to help ensure that freedom should come to the people of South Africa.

His greatest achievement lay in his ability to sustain and build a liberation movement thousands of miles from home; to devise ways to keep it alive in the hearts of most South Africans; to build a corps of leaders committed to working for peace even while waging armed struggle. Throughout those years, he never lost sight of the need to train healers, teachers, farmers, scientists, builders, artists and poets, to prepare for a liberated and democratic South Africa.

This far-sighted leadership helped prepare the country to seize the opportunity for a negotiated end to apartheid when it eventually developed.

There are many things that one could say about Oliver Tambo as a person. On this occasion, though, we think of just a few of them.

The most obvious thing was his profound sense of service. He literally gave his life to the cause of a democratic South Africa. When he went into exile, this "foreign posting" was no comfortable honour. It was an exercise in endurance in a mostly hostile world - a world in which he triumphed.

Such qualities have particular relevance for health workers as you struggle to bring essential health services to all our people. That is what our constitution pledges - and that was what Oliver Tambo envisaged for South Africa all those years ago. The task before you is truly immense and you will need courage to face up to change, with all its difficulties and uncertainties.

Though we have only just set out on the long and difficult path, we can take pride as a nation that the foundation for such a health service has been laid in the few short years of our freedom. For the first time, we find ourselves able to talk of health and justice in the same breath.

The introduction of free primary health has brought many more people to clinics around the country - proof, if any was needed, that the people most deprived of services have been reached in a new and meaningful way.

This emphasis on essential health care for all has led to the building and upgrading of hundreds of new clinics around the country.

It is most satisfying to know that one of the new clinics, just recently opened, is in Oliver Tambo's home town of Wattville - the first clinic ever to be built in a community that was established more than half a century ago.

At the same time we have had to address imbalances and inequities in the hospital services. The spirit of Gauteng's efforts to do so is seen today in the Tambo Memorial Hospital. This once old and overused hospital, one of the Cinderella's of Gauteng, has been given new energy by the addition of this magnificent emergency and specialist clinic unit, and the new orthopaedic unit transplanted from Hillbrow Hospital.

I have had the occasion to visit this hospital more than once in the past few years, most recently this week. The signs of change are there to see, and it is not surprising to learn that patients are coming here in greater numbers than ever before.


When we set out on the path of transformation, few of us could imagine how complex and difficult it would be. What is clear today, however, is that the burden of success falls on people like yourselves - the public servants who actually bring services to the people, and who feel most directly the impact and the uncertainties of change.

Oliver Tambo led us to freedom. Now we are engaged in an even more difficult and demanding struggle, the struggle to rebuild and develop our country so that all should enjoy a better life.

Today our public servants, including health workers, are custodians of the tradition of Oliver Tambo. I believe that his lifelong sacrifice will only find fulfilment if the true meaning of service to our people is taken up by every one of us.

Whether you change the linen or stitch up wounds, cook the food or dispense the medicines, it is in your hands to help build a public service worthy of all those who gave their lives for the dream of democracy.

Let us take the lessons from the past - and then leave that bitter place behind; move forward together with a proud purpose, to achieve the kind of health-care that honours the name of Oliver Reginald Tambo.

I thank you.

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Acquisition method: From website ; Source: South African Government Information Website. Accessioned on 20/12/06 by Helen Joannides




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