Drop Everything and Emulate, II
This is Oliver Tambo, the second example of a lawyer whose story I like to introduce to my property students. They’ve heard of his more famous law partner, but few have ever heard of him. Here’s what I tell them:
Oliver Tambo was an attorney who helped lead the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Because of that, he was forced to live in exile for 30 years. When he returned home, he played an important role in the decision to pursue peaceful reconciliation with, rather than vengeance against, his former oppressors.
Tambo had already joined the African National Congress before starting a little two-person law practice in the 1950s, but his experience in practice was critical to the dedication he felt to the struggle. His office was deluged with land disputes arising from a new government policy of taking land owned by Black African families and forceably relocating them to Bantustans, essentially desolate reservations for Black Africans.
“Weekly we interviewed the delegations of peasants who came to tell us how many generations their families had worked a little piece of land from which they were now being ejected… To live in the wrong area had become a crime… Our buff office files carried thousands of these stories and if, when we started our law partnership, we had not been rebels against apartheid, our experiences in our offices would have remedied the deficiency.’
The “we” he referred to was him and his partner. Their little 2-partner law office was called Mandela & Tambo (you can see the name in reverse on the window). His partner (seen in the picture) was an attorney who, unlike Tambo, needs no introduction.
Oliver Tambo died just 2 years after returning to South Africa from his 30-year exile, and a year before his old law partner, who had been imprisoned while Tambo was exiled, was elected President.
Few people outside of South Africa know his name today, which is how he preferred it. Nelson Mandela was, and is, a brilliant public figure. Tambo was quieter.
If you go to South Africa today, you will probably arrive at Oliver Tambo International Airport. If you study law at the University of Pretoria today, you will study it in the Oliver Tambo Memorial Law Library, which houses the renowned Center for Human Rights. Every year, his life is celebrated with a festival in his hometown. And this year, after the death of his widow, this beautiful moment was erected in their honor.
If you sometimes work and make sacrifices for justice, as you are now well on your way to being uniquely equipped to do, you will join Oliver Tambo in a long quiet tradition of your profession, and you yourself will become a living monument to the ideals for which he lived and died.