Drop Everything and Emulate, II

oliver tambo.jpg

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.

He said:


“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.

mandela.jpg

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.

Tambo memorial.jpg

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.

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10 Responses

  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    That was exquisite and indeed inspirational.

    You can readily sense the importance of Tambo’s friendship with Mandela in the latter’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994).

    When speaking of Tambo’s “exile” one should not forget that, as Mandela notes, “Oliver left South Africa on the instructions of the ANC,” for he became the international face of the organization:”

    “Oliver’s departure was one of the most well-planned and fortunate actions taken by the movement. At the time we hardly suspected how absolutely vital the external wing would become. With his wisdom and calmness, his patience and organizational skills, his ability to lead and inspire without stepping on toes, Oliver was the perfect choice for the assignment.” It was Tambo who held talks with Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S., and may have been singularly responsible for the recognition of the ANC as absolutely central to any resolution of the political conflict in South Africa and the end of apartheid.

    Finally, Mandela provides a fitting tribute to his onetime law partner and comrade in struggle:

    “In Plato’s allegory of the metals, the philosopher classifies men into groups of gold, silver, and lead. Oliver was pure gold; there was gold in his intellectual brilliance, gold in his warmth and humanity, gold in his tolerance and generosity, gold in his unfailing loyalty and self-sacrifice. As much as I respected him as a leader, that is how much I loved him as a man.

    Though we had been apart for all the years I was in prison, Oliver was never far from my thoughts. In many ways, even though we were separated, I kept up a lifelong conversation with him in my head. Perhaps that is why I felt so bereft when he died. I felt, as I told one colleague, like the loneliest man in the world. It was as though he had been snatched away from me just as we had finally been reunited. When I looked at him in the casket, it was as if a part of myself had died. [….] Oliver had lived to see the prisoners released and the exiles return, but he had not lived to cast his vote in a free and democratic South Africa.”

    Incidentally, Oliver endorsed the ANC’s agonizing decision to engage in an armed struggle, in Mandela’s words, “Oliver said…the armed struggle was imposed upon us by the violence of the apartheid regime.”

  2. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    That was exquisite and indeed inspirational.

    You can readily sense the importance of Tambo’s friendship with Mandela in the latter’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994).

    When speaking of Tambo’s “exile” one should not forget that, as Mandela notes, “Oliver left South Africa on the instructions of the ANC,” for he became the international face of the organization:”

    “Oliver’s departure was one of the most well-planned and fortunate actions taken by the movement. At the time we hardly suspected how absolutely vital the external wing would become. With his wisdom and calmness, his patience and organizational skills, his ability to lead and inspire without stepping on toes, Oliver was the perfect choice for the assignment.” It was Tambo who held talks with Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S., and may have been singularly responsible for the recognition of the ANC as absolutely central to any resolution of the political conflict in South Africa and the end of apartheid.

    Finally, Mandela provides a fitting tribute to his onetime law partner and comrade in struggle:

    “In Plato’s allegory of the metals, the philosopher classifies men into groups of gold, silver, and lead. Oliver was pure gold; there was gold in his intellectual brilliance, gold in his warmth and humanity, gold in his tolerance and generosity, gold in his unfailing loyalty and self-sacrifice. As much as I respected him as a leader, that is how much I loved him as a man.

    Though we had been apart for all the years I was in prison, Oliver was never far from my thoughts. In many ways, even though we were separated, I kept up a lifelong conversation with him in my head. Perhaps that is why I felt so bereft when he died. I felt, as I told one colleague, like the loneliest man in the world. It was as though he had been snatched away from me just as we had finally been reunited. When I looked at him in the casket, it was as if a part of myself had died. [….] Oliver had lived to see the prisoners released and the exiles return, but he had not lived to cast his vote in a free and democratic South Africa.”

    Incidentally, Oliver endorsed the ANC’s agonizing decision to engage in an armed struggle, in Mandela’s words, “Oliver said…the armed struggle was imposed upon us by the violence of the apartheid regime.”

  3. dobe gulia says:

    I am sure your Property class also covers the lives of Soviet, Chinese, Cuban, Polish, Cambogian dissidents, who fought to keep people’s land and other property from being expropriated. Wait, you don’t cover that? Why not?

  4. Quidpro says:

    Well said Prof. Edwards. Sometimes the long struggle does reeult in the triumph of justice.

  5. Mark Edwards says:

    Dobe — you better believe it does!! In my class, we ask whether rights are inherent in the individual, or whether they are simply the product of state power. I use the writings of Mao and Henry Clay for the latter proposition, since both supported different forms of slavery on that basis. I ask my students to argue each side, but I don’t hide my conclusion that rights inhere in the individual, and that attorneys willing to speak that truth to power ahould be admired. We also focus on the rural unrest in China today that is resulting from state seizures of private property.

  6. dobe gulia says:

    Mark: that’s very impressive! But how many semesters does your property class last? Or do you teach at Yale?

  7. Mark Edwards says:

    2 semesters, 6 credits.

  8. Carol Cross says:

    Good to know that law students are taught that the “rights are inherent in the individual” especially since corporate power in the US commercial world, because of the subsidy of government regulation, has been so successful in so many areas of the commercial world in removing private rights from private individuals for any redress for corporate excesses and greed.

    Just a shame that the Corporations get to use The Bill of Rights against the interests of the public and the masses and that the “law” that is supposedly promulgated to achieve and protect “order” and “liberty and justice” for all is subverted and manipulated to serve the interests of the “special corporate interests” who represent their “good” as serving the “public good.”

    I’m sure that there is a movement afoot to convince the American people that the new and exotic financial products and special vehicles that became legal under relaxed regulation and Treasury Law were good for the people and that “short selling” and consumer “irresponsibility” are the real culprits!

    Wish I were smart enough to know the truth. Hope the Congress will be smart enough to discover the truth and solve the problem, and that the World will say President Obama is sure “good at” the business of bringing change.

    We would hope that the election of Senator Obama to the Presidency of the United States, despite the debacle of the Wall Street Massacre of innocent investors, will send a new message of hope to the world, who may be thrown into depression because of the premeditated lack of meaningful regulation of our free markets by Congress and the Executive.

    I was not surprised to see so many people of color cry with joy at President Obama’s election. I have always known for many years that if I were born black, I would have been an activist.

    We are going to need a lot of good people to speak up to power and to try to use the law to protect the people and not the special interests. President Obama will be a target as he tries to walk the “center” in this country. In twelve months, the parties will start preparing for the next general elections.

    He needs a mandate from the people and the Press and the Media that, of course, he won’t get.

    Will the socialization of the Investment Industry that sold AAA rated investments that were actually premeditated overrated shit to innocent investors, pension funds, etc., solve our problems?

    Since we helped to create a Chinese middle class with our trade policy, are we responsible for trying to sustain the Chinese middle class that is also sustained by the slave class in China?

    When governments go into business for themselves with corporate partners, no matter what the “ism” – is anyone safe? Can a few good lawyers make the difference? Yes, they can! Can’t they?

  9. Mark Edwards says:

    Patrick — that passage from Mandela is strikingly beautiful — what an impact this quiet man named Tambo had!

    Dobe — the tenor of your first comment suggests that you were convinced I was motivated in advocating the admiration of Tambo by an unspoken leftist agenda, deliberatly or (at best) negligently ignoring the contributions of lawyers who fought (and fight) against totalitarianism in communist states. It was an accusation in the disguise of a question, as you must admit if you’re being honest. I was happy to tell you that wasn’t true. But I’d like to add, now that you seem satisfied with my answer, that accusing first, and asking questions later, is an unjustified and counterproductive way of communicating with others. It betrays a sense of anger and even paranoia. In my opinion, you’d be better served by asking first and judging later. No hard feelings, but I didn’t want to let it pass without comment.

  10. dobe gulia says:

    Mark: yes, I did think that you were injecting leftist propaganda in your classes, but I was willing to be convinced otherwise, which is why I asked. My hunch was based on a well-founded probabilistic judgment re typical behavior of a law prof, and it was further supplemented by the fact that your post said not a word about all those other people who fought to preserve the right to own property — in China, Russia, Cuba, and beyond. As you may know, most of those fighters had a substantially less pleasant lifestyle than Mr. Tambo (who spent most of his adult life in England), and the depravities caused by those governments far overshadow anything that the South African government ever did. Calling us to emulate about Mr. Tambo while ignoring the context of countless others who died for the same thing in the hands of governments of the opposite ilk gave a strong impression that your main concern was indeed the right-wing politics of the regime, not the depravation of rights. Your post also said not a word about including those other fighters in your class readings. Finally, if you were discussing a course called “Dissident Movements around the World”, I should have reasonably inferred that the failure to mention the Chinese dissidents in your post does not mean you don’t cover them in class. But your class is Property. Given the place of your employment, one would find it highly unlikely that a teacher of the first-year Property course spends time covering South African and Chinese, Russian etc dissidents. One such example (South Africa), maybe – but the whole representative swath? Very, very unlikely.

    So, my comment reflected a series of well-founded probabilistic judgments and a reasonable interpretation of your post. Your response was to accuse me of “paranoia”? Recall that “paranoia” is normally defined as “unfounded or exaggerated distrust of others, sometimes reaching delusional proportions.” Re-read your last post. Who is being paranoid here?