The Story Of Oliver Tambo

Date: Sep 7, 2017


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.



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