Celebrating Oliver Tambo's Legacy: A Life Dedicated to Equality & Justice
16:31 27.10.2023 (Updated: 16:42 27.10.2023)
Friday, October 27, 2023, marks the 106th birth anniversary of Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo, a name that resonates with the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa. Tambo's life and legacy continue to inspire millions around the world.
Born in 1917 in Nkantolo, Bizana, in what is now the Eastern Cape, Tambo's journey from a small village to becoming one of the key anti-apartheid fighters and the President of the African National Congress (ANC) is a testament to his indomitable spirit and unwavering commitment to the cause of freedom.
Tambo once said, "There is no way a spirit of resistance that has sunk so deep in the population can be repressed."
This spirit of resistance was evident throughout his life. From his early days as a top student expulsed from the University of Fort Hare for participating in a student strike, Tambo's commitment to justice was unshakable in a period that was instrumental in shaping the course of South Africa’s history.
In 1944, Tambo co-founded the ANC Youth League with Nelson Mandela
and Walter Sisulu. In 1952, together with Mandela, he founded South Africa's first black law practice.
After the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, in which at least 69 black protesters were killed by apartheid regime police and 180 others injured, the ANC was essentially outlawed, and Tambo left South Africa to set up the organization's foreign headquarters.
Tambo's major achievement was to hold the ANC together in exile and during the 27-year imprisonment of its other key leader – Mandela. By skillfully lobbying around the world and attracting talented South African exiles, Tambo built the organization into the legitimate voice of black South Africans.
Tambo's Presidency of the ANC
Oliver Tambo's leadership of the ANC began in earnest in 1967, following the death of ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli. Tambo was elected president of the ANC after the Morogoro Conference in 1969, a position he held until 1991.
During his presidency, Tambo was the face of the ANC in exile for more than 30 years. He was instrumental in rallying international support
against apartheid and for the ANC's cause. His tireless efforts ensured that the party remained united and focused on its goal of a democratic and non-racial South Africa.
"The sanctions will not kill us. It's apartheid that's killing us," the ANC leader said in 1986, summing up his unwavering commitment to ending the apartheid regime, which by then had drawn widespread international condemnation and was under severe economic sanctions.
Oliver Tambo stepped down from the presidency of the ANC in 1991 for health reasons. He had suffered a stroke in 1989, which made it difficult for him to carry out his duties as president of the ANC. He was succeeded as president of the ANC in July 1991 by his old colleague and deputy, Nelson Mandela, who went on to become South Africa's first black head of state
and the first democratically elected president in the history of the country.
After Tambo stepped down as leader of the ANC, the congress created a special position for him as National Chairman, in which he continued to serve the ANC and his country despite his health problems, until his death
on April 24, 1993.
Using the power you derive from the discovery 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 – of which all of humanity can be proud.
Tambo's memory is cherished in modern South Africa, with the country's largest airport in Johannesburg bearing the activist's name. On October 27 this year, South Africa's Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, delivered the 3rd O.R. Tambo Annual Memorial Lecture at the University of South Africa (UNISA). The lecture, co-hosted by the Oliver and Reginald Tambo Foundation, was on the theme: "Reclaiming Africa's Intellectual Future".