Oliver Tambo

The story of Oliver Tambo

We seek to create a united Democratic and non-racial society. We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity. Using the power you derive from thediscovery of the truth about racism in South Africa, you will help us to remake our part of the world into a corner of the globe on which all -- of which all of humanity can be proud.

On the 27th of October 1917, Kaizana Tambo was born. Raised with a solid foundation of culture and hard work, and groomed in a village rife with strong morals and values, the Son of Nkantolo grew up to be loved and respected by South Africa and the world.

On his first day at school, Kaizana’s teacher asked him to come to school with a new English name. His parents chose Oliver. This and a host of encounters with some of his first teacher’s strict nature made him dread school. A chance meeting with an eloquent young man who was a member of the debating society in a different school changed his attitude towards education and ignited a love for discussion and debate.

He later enrolled at Holy Cross Mission near Flagstaff, where he became one of their star students. He moved on to St Peter’s in Johannesburg, where he matriculated with top marks. Swelling with pride, the Eastern Cape assembly of traditional leaders granted Oliver Tambo a bursary to study at Fort Hare University, where he graduated with a BSC degree in Maths and Science. It was during this time that his talent as a leader came to the fore when he was elected the Student’s Representative Council of his residence, Beda Hall. He was calm, quiet and enjoyed elaborate debates.

In 1941, OR obtained a BSc Maths and Science. The following year, while studying towards his post graduate qualification in Education, he was expelled from the University for participating in a student strike on a point of principle. Upon hearing about his expulsion from the University of Fort Hare, his alma mater St. Peter’s college offered him a job as a Maths and Science teacher.

While teaching in Johannesburg, he became a very active member of 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 later elected along with Walter Sisulu to the National Executive Committee of the ANC.

In 1948, he began serving his articles at the law firm of Max Kramer and Tuch and at the end of 1949; Tuch and Tambo joined the company of Solomon Kowalsky. In 1951, he formed 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. As part of the National Action Council that organised the defiance campaign, OR along with 156 other people were charged with treason.

While out on bail OR Tambo married Adelaide Tshukudu who was a nurse at the time. They were married on the 22nd December 1956.

In 1958, OR Tambo became the Deputy President of the ANC. In 1959, Tambo received a 5-year banning order as a sentence for the Treason Trial. In 1960, after the Sharpeville Massacre the ANC feared increased attacks on their members, 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, covering 27 countries by 1990. He helped lobby support for the ANC and raised the international reputation of the ANC to one of great prestige.

Oliver was a key player when the ANC embarked on the armed struggle. With the support of other countries, places were provided for training camps for Umkhonto we Sizwe.

During this period of the 1960’s Tambo headed the ANC diplomatic mission to campaign globally and gain support for the anti-Apartheid cause. He also addressed the UN General Assembly of the Special Political Committee, appearing for the freedom of South Africa. In 1963, he gave a passionate plea to the UN for the release of political prisoners in South African prisons. In 1967, after the death of ANC President-General Chief Albert Luthuli, Tambo became Acting President until his appointment was approved at the Morogoro conference in 1969.

In 1982 Oliver Tambo suffered a mild stroke because of his tiring schedule. On the 9 the August 1989, he suffered a more severe stroke, forcing him to take time off for recovery. With the assistance of President Kenneth Kaunda, he was taken to London for recovery.

In 1990, Oliver Tambo and his family returned home after 30 years in exile. He spoke at the first ANC meeting in South Africa since it’s unbanning. Here he passed the leadership baton to Nelson Mandela. He was elected as the National Chairperson of the ANC.

In the early hours of the 24th of April 1993, two weeks after Chris Hani was assassinated, O.R suffered a fatal stroke. Like Moses, he had led his people to the promised land, but was never able to enjoy the fruits of his toil.

Oliver and Adelaide Tambo – Timeline

27-10-1917
Oliver Tambo Birthday
18-07-1929
Adelaide Tambo Birthday
02-04-1944
Found the ANC Youth League

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

01-09-1944
Oliver Tambo elected ANC's secretary

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

02-12-1944
Adelaide starts working for ANC

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

10-05-1947
Adelaide elected ANC Youth League chairperson

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

24-07-1951
Oliver Tambo qualifies as an Attorney
05-12-1956
Oliver arrested

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

20-12-1956
Release of Oliver Tambo

Oliver Tambo is released on bail during the Treason Trial

22-12-1956
Oliver and Adelaide Wedding Day
27-03-1960
Departure of Oliver Tambo for exile
01-05-1960
Oliver Tambo arrives in Denmark

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

15-09-1960
Arrival of Adelaide and children in London

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

10-10-1960
Oliver Tambos first visit to New York
10-05-1963
Formation of OAU

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

10-10-1963
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

25-04-1969
Oliver announces resignation from the ANC

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

20-05-1983
Oliver Tambo Authorises Church Street Bombing
08-01-1985
Render South Africa Ungovernable

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

14-12-1990
Tambo family returns from exile
23-04-1993
Oliver Tambo passes away
31-01-2007
Adelaide Tambo passes away
25-10-2011
Official Launch of Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation

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