Oliver Tambo
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Many historians today would agree that Oliver Tambo lived an inspirational life that others should work towards emulating. Without a doubt, the anti-apartheid activist and politician was one of the finest leaders produced by the African National Congress (ANC) who fought tooth and nails to ensure that black South Africans were not treated as second class citizens in their own country. Tambo practically dedicated his life to this struggle and although he was not alive to see his dream become reality, his role will forever be remembered.

Biography of Oliver Tambo

Oliver Tambo was born Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo on the 27th of October 1917 in the small village of Nkantolo, near Bizana in eastern Pondoland, what is now known today as the Eastern Cape. He was born into a polygamous family where his father was a traditionalist and his mother was a Christian.

In 1943, after having completed his education and began working as a teacher, Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and Walter Sisulu among others founded the ANC Youth League which elected him as its first National Secretary. He would later go on to become a member of the National Executive in 1948 and by 1955, be named Secretary-General of the ANC after the incumbent Sisulu was banned by the South African government.

In 1958, Tambo became Deputy President of the ANC and was thus banned in the following year for five years by the government. The ANC subsequently relocated him and his family to London, England where they stayed for over thirty years, mobilizing opposition to apartheid.

In 1967, after the death of the President of the ANC, Tambo became the Acting President. In this position, he was able to keep the ANC together even though he was exiled from the country. He used his excellent lobbying skills to attract young and vibrant people like Thabo Mbeki to the struggle who went on to play a major role in the advancement of their agenda.

After 30 years in exile, Oliver Tambo returned to South Africa thanks to the unbanning of the ANC by the South African government. His performance in the role as the head of the political party was, however, reduced due to the stroke he had suffered in 1989. This propelled him to hand over the role of President of the ANC to Mandela as the special position of National Chairman was then created and handed over to him.

Oliver Tambo
Tambo and Nelson Mandela (image source)


Despite being born to an illiterate father, Oliver Tambo attended and excelled in school right from a young age. He attended Anglican and Methodist missionary schools (Holy Cross Mission school and St. Peters Johannesburg) for his early education, graduating in 1938 as one of the best students before earning a scholarship to enroll at the University of Fort Hare.

It is said that he wanted to study medicine but because very few schools in the country were accepting black students, he was left with no option but to study physics and maths, gaining a BSc in 1941. A few years later, after having gotten deeply involved in the anti-apartheid struggle as he worked as a teacher, Tambo elected to study law by correspondence through Unisa in order to have a chance at fighting the racially discriminatory laws in the country.

Details Of His Family

Oliver Tambo was born to Julia and Mzimeni Tambo. His mother was one of the wives of his father who had a total of four wives and ten children. But despite the significant number of people, the Tambo family lived harmoniously and had an excellent relationship with one another. Mzimeni was able to provide for them all thanks to his ownership of at least 50 cattle, several fine horses, and an ox-wagon which he used to create enterprising opportunities.

When the time came for Tambo to take a wife, he married Adelaide Tsukudu, a Youth League activist and qualified nurse. His wife has since been affectionately known as Mama Tambo in South Africa for the work and role she was able to play alongside her husband during their fight against the apartheid government. The pair went on to welcome three children to the world; Thembi, Dali and Tselane. Dali is the most popular of the three as he has been able to fashion out a career for himself as a media personality.

See Also: Facts You Should Know About Azania: South Africa’s Proposed Name

How Did Oliver Tambo Die?

Oliver Tambo passed away on the 24th of April 1993 after suffering complications from a stroke. He died almost exactly a year before the country held its first democratic elections.

Tambo was accorded a state funeral that was graced by friends of the anti-apartheid struggle as well as by heads of state from the international community. His remains were buried in Benoni, Gauteng and his grave was declared a National Heritage site.

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