An ode to my grandfather, Oliver Tambo

22 October 2017 - 00:00 By Theodora Tambo

The 2003 tragi-comedy film Big Fish, based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace, contains the line: "There are some fish that cannot be caught.
"They're not stronger or faster than other fish. They're just touched by something extra."
In learning the story of my grandfather's life, it begins to seem like a work of fiction.
He sounds like the hero we read about in fairytales, and there is an impossibility to his strength of character, the courage of his convictions and his unshakeable faith.
But that's the kind of story his is.
I am always somewhat envious of those who have memories of their interactions with my grandfather - OR, the intellectual giant; Kaizana, the boy from Bizana; Papa, the husband; Daddy, the father; and Grandpa, our grandfather.
I was three when my grandfather died; I have no memories of my own.
Those that I have are murky, unclear, vague shadows.I remember a feeling, or a glimmer of interaction, since fleshed out by the recollections of my grandmother, my mother and my brothers.
I hold to these dearly, as the parts of him that we knew, that we experienced as his family.
I find myself laughing at the story of how my grandfather, always in good heart, would often be seen walking down the passage limping, because my younger brother Zachary, who was no older than 10 months old, was attached to his walking stick.
The letters he sent my family during their times apart, to my uncle, my aunt, my mother and my grandmother, which have been archived, give me an insight into the man I have been told stories about.
They have helped me to understand that this man, this giant, this legend, who at times seems mythological, was real, and his blood runs through my veins.
My mother has his eyes. My brother has his smile. My cousin has his name.
His legacy is ours.
And as huge a responsibility as that is, I also find myself humbled by the privilege to call it such.
I have, over the years, discovered photographs of myself as a baby, with him.
In every single one his  face grins from ear to ear, whether I was ripping (literally) the glasses off his nose (something my own daughter does to her grandparents), was wrapped around his legs or cuddled up in his arms.
I once read that there is nothing more contagious than the laughter of children.In those photos I see a man who was able to live in the moment of laughter and light, despite having suffered a stroke, having lived three decades in exile, having spent his marriage separated from his wife, having observed his children's lives from a distance, and who had fought every single day for the liberation of his people.
I see a man who had a lightness about him, even though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
I see a man I would have been honoured to remember, and who I am blessed to be able to learn from, even today.
Through recollections by his grandchildren, his children, his wife, his comrades and his students, I am able to cobble together that which they all knew.
That a giant walked among us.
That he was indeed like the heroes we read about in fairytales. That there is an is an impossibility to his strength of character, the courage of his convictions and his unshakeable faith. And while he may seem fictitious at times, the memories that have been shared with me are evidence that his story, his work and spirit are real.
A man's stories are told so many times that he becomes the stories.
They live on after him, and in that way, he becomes immortal.
Tambo is the granddaughter of Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo. Her mother, ambassador Tembi Tambo, is OR Tambo's eldest daughter

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