Oliver Tambo

By: Alexa Rainey

Early Life

Born on October 27, 1917, Oliver Tambo grew up in Kantillia, Bizana where he spent his time as a young boy herding his father's cattle. Tambo had a Christian upbringing, and his faith continued to grow throughout his studies. His father was illiterate which led him to decide that he wanted his children to have they best education they could get. At the age of six Oliver began schooling. As a young man he was a talented, hard working student who enjoyed music, football and cricket. He excelled as a student and went great lengths to learn. He commuted and stayed with various people to be nearer to school and made the most of it. During his attendance at St. Peter's high school he wrote his Junior Certificate (JC) exam and passed with a first class, which resulted in large scholarships that allowed him to attend the University College of Fort Hare. Here he became involved in politics and proceeded to lead a boycott that led to his expulsion and eventual return to St Peter's where he became a math and science teacher in 1942.


During the same year, Oliver became a part of an elitist group in Johannesburg. This group included people such as Walter Sisulu, Anton Lembede, Jordan Ngubane and Nelson Mandela, whom had attended the same college as him. These intellectuals typically met in the house of Dr. AB Xuma who was the president of the African National Congress where they made plans to make the ANC more accessible to ordinary people. Tambo became involved in discussions and participated in the drafting of the African Claims of South Africa which was then adopted by the ANC in 1943 during the Bloemfontein conference. He was also aided in the creation of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) along with some other members of the ANC which was also formally accepted in 1943. Oliver became the secretary of this group with Lembede as president and Sisulu as the treasurer.

In 1951 Tambo and Mandela opened a legal firm and When Mandela was banned Tambo continued to run it despite Mandela's absence. In 1954 he was elected secretary general of the ANC but received a banning order within the same year. During 1956 he was imprisoned on account of treason with 155 other members of the ANC who had been accused. He was soon acquitted along with a majority of the other members in what became the Treason Trial of 1956. In 1959 he headed the ANC's Constitutional Commission. Tambo used this position to shed more light on the ANC's Women's league and the ANCYL. Revisions were made and given the name the Tambo Constitution. These accomplishments were just the beginning for Oliver as he continued to gain jurisdiction within the ANC. During the year of 1960 Oliver and his family were exiled. He spent his time gathering support for the anti-apartheid group and setting up military camps. His campaigning also targeted the equality of women and the protection of children in abusive situations. In 1967, Luthuli passed away and Tambo became the temporary president of the ANC.

Oliver's expedition continued until 1989 when he suffered from a stroke. He finally returned to South Africa in 1990 and becomes Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare in 1991. On April 23, 1993 Tambo passes away in Johannesburg but his legacy lives on well into the 2000's.


"The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future."

Significance to anti-apartheid movement

Over the many years of his life Oliver Tambo put his heart and soul into the ANC and was a leader that represented the cause. Among his many accomplishments, he is most remembered for his constant presence within the campaign. Tambo filled the holes when others could not, taking the place of Mandela and Luthuli on Multiple occasions so as to keep the ANC running strong. When exiled from South Africa, he did not give up on the ANC or any of its branches that included the ANCWL and the ANCYL. Instead he raised awareness for their cause. He traveled the world, giving speeches and taking actions to support the ANC and any of it's future needs. Tambo was a strong leader who took initiative even when his situation deteriorated. Because of this, Oliver leaves behind a legacy of perseverance and power that embodies all that the ANC stood for in the past, present, and future.

Works Cited

"Oliver Reginald Tambo." South African History Online. N.p., 2015. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela. Digital image. DispatchLive. N.p., 11 Dec. 2013. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

"Oliver Tambo Quote." A-Z Quotes. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

NNDB. Oliver Tambo. Digital image. NNDB. N.p., 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Young Oliver Tambo. Digital image. LIKESUCCESS. N.p., 2015. Web.

"Oliver Reginald Tambo Timeline 1917-2011." Tinashe. South African History Online, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.