Thousands of chanting, cheering supporters today welcomed African National Congress President Oliver Tambo on his return to South Africa after three decades in exile.
Nelson Mandela, the ANC’s deputy president and the anti-apartheid organization’s leading figure, and other senior leaders also greeted Tambo when his plane from Zimbabwe touched down at Jan Smuts Airport.
“Viva Tambo!” the crowds chanted as they waited for a glimpse of the 73-year-old ANC president, who has spent the last 16 months recovering from a stroke that left him debilitated. He walked with a cane today.
Foreign diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador William Swing, were among the 5,000 people at the airport for Tambo’s arrival.
Tambo greeted ANC leaders and other guests on the airport Tarmac, warmly embracing South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo. Tambo chatted with ANC leaders, shaking hands and smiling.
Asked how he was feeling, the beaming Tambo said, “Fine, fine, fine.” He walked slowly with a slight limp.
An activist draped a black-gold-and-green ANC scarf around Tambo’s neck and about 300 black airport workers encircled the plane, cheering.
Tambo later appeared on one level of the parking garage with Mandela, overlooking the expectant crowd. Mandela described Tambo as “one of the greatest heroes of Africa.” Tambo did not speak.
“At the present moment, he wishes just to say he is happy to be amongst you,” Mandela said, adding Tambo would address an ANC consultative congress on Sunday.
Tambo, a former lawyer and teacher, has been overshadowed, partly because of poor health, by Mandela. Some news reports suggest Tambo will never again play a major role in the ANC, but the group insists he will not step down.