Oliver Tambo

Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo


 Born in Kantolo, Mbizana in the Mpondoland district of the Eastern Cape on the 27th October 1917, Oliver Reginald (OR) Tambo was born into a large Christian family. He began his formal education at the Ludeke Methodist School and completed his primary education at the Holy Cross Mission. He attended high school in Johannesburg at St Peter’s College in Rossettenville. Here he joined the choir and developed a lifelong passion for choral music.

In 1941 he obtained a BSC from Fort Hare University. It was at the university that he became actively involved in politics, he led a class boycott to demand democratically elected Student Representatives Council, and was subsequently expelled because of this, therefore he was unable to complete his BSc honours at the university. He returned to St Peter’s College as a mathematics and physics teacher in 1942.

While teaching in Johannesburg, he became a very active member within the ANC, forming the Youth League (ANCYL) and becoming its first national secretary in 1944. He was promoted to president of the Transvaal ANCYL in 1948 and national vice-president of the organisation in 1949.

He was elected with Walter Sisulu to the National Executive Committee of the ANC, this was a direction change for the ANC as the Youth League wanted to change the organisation from one addressing the African elite to a movement of struggle involving the masses of uneducated and unskilled black workers.

In 1948 he began serving his articles at the law firm of Max Kramer and Tuch and a At the end of 1949, Tuch and Tambo joined the company of Solomon Kowalsky. In 1951 he launched the first black law partnership with Nelson Mandela.

In 1953, Walter Sisulu was banned in terms of the Suppression of Communism Act and ordered to resign his post as Secretary General of the ANC, this role was then given to OR Tambo.

In 1956, due to serving on the National Action Council, which headed the mobilisation for the Campaign of Defiance, OR Tambo was one of 156 people accused of treason. While out on bail OR Tambo married Adelaide Tsukhudu who was a nurse at the time. They married on the 22nd December 1956.

In 1958 OR Tambo becomes the Deputy President of the ANC and in 1959 due to the Treason Trial he receives a 5 year banning order. In 1960, after the Sharpeville Massacre, Tambo was asked by the ANC to travel abroad and set up the ANC’s international mission and to mobilise international opinion against the apartheid regime. During his time abroad he was instrumental in the establishment of ANC missions globally, 27 countries in total by 1990. He helped lobby support for the ANC and raised the international reputation of the ANC to one of great prestige.

He was a key player when the ANC embarked on the armed struggle, with the support of other African countries, spaces were provided for training camps for the Umkhonto we Sizwe. In 1963 he gave a passionate plea at the UN for the release of political prisoners in South African jails.


[label type=”label-primary”]1917[/label] Born 27th October in Kantolo, Mbizana in Mpondoland district of the Eastern Cape

[label type=”label-primary”]1928[/label] Begins at Anglican Holy Cross Missionary School at Flagstaff, Eastern Cape

[label type=”label-primary”]1938[/label] Achieves his matric certificate

[label type=”label-primary”]1942[/label] Graduates with BSc degree from the Fort Hare University  but is expelled for political activity

[label type=”label-primary”]1943 to 1947[/label] Teaches maths and physics at St Peter’s Secondary School in Johannesburg

[label type=”label-primary”]1947[/label] Becomes member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC

[label type=”label-primary”]1948[/label] Begins serving law articles at Max Kramer and Tuch

[label type=”label-primary”]1951[/label] Qualifies as a lawyer

[label type=”label-primary”]1951[/label] Establishes first black law partnership with Nelson Mandela

[label type=”label-primary”]1956[/label] Arrested on charges of high treason, while out on bail marries Adelaide Tshukudu

[label type=”label-primary”]1960[/label] Goes into exile, eventually settling in London with Adelaide and their three children

[label type=”label-primary”]1960’s[/label] Heads the ANC diplomatic mission to campaign globally and gain support for the anti-Apartheid cause. Addresses the UN General Assembly Special Political Committee, appearing for the freedom of South Africa.

[label type=”label-primary”]1967[/label] Becomes acting President of the ANC

[label type=”label-primary”]1977[/label] Addresses the UN Security Council

[label type=”label-primary”]1978[/label] Visits Vietnam where he attends numerous classes and meetings with other activists

[label type=”label-primary”]1985[/label] Calls on South Africans to “render South Africa ungovernable”

[label type=”label-primary”]1989[/label] Suffers a stroke

[label type=”label-primary”]1990[/label] Meets with Nelson Mandela again for the first time in nearly three decades. Moves back with his family to South Africa

[label type=”label-primary”]1991[/label] Installed as Chancellor at the Fort Hare University

[label type=”label-primary”]1993[/label] Passes away on the 23rd  April