what role did oliver tambo play during apartheid

Oliver Tambo and His Role During Apartheid
what role did oliver tambo play during apartheid


Oliver Tambo was a prominent figure during the apartheid era in South Africa. He played a crucial role in the liberation struggle against racial oppression, fighting for equality and justice for all South Africans. This article explores the significant contributions and impact of Oliver Tambo during the apartheid period.

Early Life and Education

Oliver Reginald Tambo was born on October 27, 1917, in the village of Kantolo in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. He came from a humble background and excelled academically, receiving scholarships to study at Fort Hare University and later at the University of Witwatersrand. It was during his time at university that he became politically conscious and joined various student movements.

Founding Member of the ANC Youth League

In 1944, Tambo, along with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, was one of the founding members of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League. The Youth League aimed to revitalize and rejuvenate the ANC, advocating for more radical actions to challenge apartheid. Tambo played a crucial role in organizing protests, mobilizing young people, and promoting the ANC’s agenda.

Exile and International Advocacy

In the early 1960s, Tambo went into exile due to increasing repression by the apartheid government. He became the ANC’s Acting President and established the organization’s external mission in several African countries. From there, he worked tirelessly to garner international support and condemnation of apartheid. He traveled extensively, addressing international forums, governments, and seeking assistance for the liberation struggle.

A Leader in the ANC

After the arrest of Nelson Mandela in 1962, Oliver Tambo assumed the position of ANC President. He led the organization for over 30 years, becoming a symbol of defiance and resistance against apartheid. Tambo’s leadership skills and strategic vision enabled him to navigate the challenges faced by the ANC, rallying support both within South Africa and internationally.

The Role of ANC in the Liberation Struggle

The ANC, under Tambo’s leadership, adopted several strategies to combat apartheid. They organized mass protests, strikes, and boycotts, challenging the regime’s legitimacy. Tambo emphasized the importance of non-violence but also recognized the need for armed resistance, leading to the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of ANC.

Return to South Africa

Following the unbanning of political organizations in 1990, Tambo returned to South Africa after three decades in exile. He played a crucial role in negotiating with the apartheid government, paving the way for a peaceful transition to democracy. Tambo’s diplomatic skills and perseverance were instrumental in achieving a democratic South Africa.

Legacy and Honors

Oliver Tambo’s legacy continues to inspire generations in the pursuit of freedom and equality. He is celebrated for his unwavering commitment to justice and his pivotal role in the fight against apartheid. Numerous institutions, including airports, bridges, and cultural centers, have been named after him in recognition of his contributions.


Oliver Tambo’s role during apartheid was pivotal in the struggle for liberation and equality in South Africa. His leadership, resilience, and diplomatic efforts played a significant part in bringing an end to the oppressive regime. Tambo’s legacy serves as a reminder of the power of determination and the impact one individual can make in the face of injustice.

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