Adelaide Tambo

The story of Adelaide Frances Tshukudu

We used to have a song that says in Xhosa, ``I'll not refuse if I'm asked to perform a task``.

Adelaide Tambo was born Adelaide Frances Tshukudu on 18th of July 1929 in Top Location, Vereeniging (now Sedibeng district).  Adelaide’s earliest memory of apartheid was that of the arrest of her 82-year-old grandfather. Along with a few other men, Adelaide’s grandfather was accused of killing a police officer in Top Location. While being led to the town square, Adelaide witnessed her grandfather collapse, and when he regained consciousness, Adelaide witnessed him being called “boy” by a police officer young enough to be his grandson.


At the age of eighteen, while studying at Orlando High School, Adelaide became a courier for the African National Congress (ANC). During this time, she joined the school’s debating society, and with apartheid being progressively entrenched by the government, it was a heated topic for most students. During the same period, Adelaide joined the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and became the Chairperson of the George Goch branch.  Part of her duties, as the Chairperson of the ANCYL, was to open branches in the then Transvaal.


After high school, Adelaide studied and qualified as a nurse. Later, as a student nurse at Pretoria General Hospital, she started a Youth League branch with the help of Sheila Musi, Mildred Kuzwayo and Nonhle Zokwe. She later worked at the then Baragwanath Hospital, now known as the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital.


Adelaide met Oliver Reginald Tambo at a meeting at the Eastern Township branch of the ANC.  They got married on the 22nd of December 1956, during the Treason Trial. At this time, due to the political situation, it was decided by Adelaide and Oliver that Adelaide would work and run the household, while Oliver  became the politician.


In 1960, the Tambos were requested to leave the country by the ANC following the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre.  The ANC feared there would be more attacks on their members. Oliver would continue the work of the ANC outside of South Africa, gathering support for the organisation. While in exile, Adelaide continued her work as a courier for the ANC. She also became the founder of the African-Asian Solidarity Movement and the Pan-African Women’s Organisation. As Adelaide was tasked with taking care of the families, she often found herself working two jobs in London to keep her family afloat. She organised Christmas lunches, at which exiles would meet each year, and consistently participated in community work, caring especially for the elderly.


In 1990, after the unbanning of all political parties, the Tambo family returned to South Africa. In 1993, Adelaide was elected to represent the ANC in Parliament and worked as the Treasurer for the ANC Women’s League. She continued serving the community. Her contribution to the liberation struggle and commitment to community projects, earned her several awards, namely: the Noel Foundation Life Award, for initiating the anti-apartheid movement in Britain; the first Oliver Tambo/Johnny Makatini Freedom Award in February 1995; the Order of Simon of Cyrene in July 1997 – which is the highest order given by the Anglican Church for distinguished service by lay people – and, in 2002, the Order of the Baobab in Gold, awarded to South African citizens for their services in business and the economy, science, medicine, and for technology innovation, and community service.


Ma Tambo, as she was affectionately known, passed away on 31st January 2007.

Oliver and Adelaide Tambo – Timeline

Oliver Tambo Birthday
Adelaide Tambo Birthday
Found the ANC Youth League

Oliver together with William Nkomo, AP Mda, Walter Sisulu, and Nelson Mandela found the ANC Youth League

Oliver Tambo elected ANC's secretary

Official inauguration of the ANC Youth League where Oliver Tambo is elected its secretary

Adelaide starts working for ANC

Adelaide Tambo Starts working as a courier for the African National Congress

Adelaide elected ANC Youth League chairperson

Adelaide Tambo Elected ANC Youth League chairperson (George Goch Branch)

Oliver Tambo qualifies as an Attorney
Oliver arrested

Oliver arrested and charged with treason and detained by the Apartheid government

Release of Oliver Tambo

Oliver Tambo is released on bail during the Treason Trial

Oliver and Adelaide Wedding Day
Departure of Oliver Tambo for exile
Oliver Tambo arrives in Denmark

Oliver Tambo arrives in Denmark after being invited by the Prime Minister

Arrival of Adelaide and children in London

Arrival of Adelaide Tambo, along with their children, in London

Oliver Tambos first visit to New York
Formation of OAU

Oliver Tambo led an ANC delegation to the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Ethiopia.

Oliver Tambo addresses UN General Assembly

Oliver Tambo Addresses the United Nations General Assembly Special Political Committee appealing for the freedom of all South Africans

Oliver announces resignation from the ANC

Oliver announces resignation from the ANC at the Morogoro conference following personal attacks but is persuaded to return

Oliver Tambo Authorises Church Street Bombing
Render South Africa Ungovernable

Oliver Calls on the South African people to ‘Render South Africa Ungovernable’

Tambo family returns from exile
Oliver Tambo passes away
Adelaide Tambo passes away
Official Launch of Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation

President Jacob Zuma officially launches the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation in Johannesburg