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Oliver Reginald Kaizana “OR” Tambo (Posthumous)

The Order of Mapungubwe in

Oliver Reginald Kaizana “OR” Tambo (Posthumous) Awarded for:
His exceptional and outstanding leadership skills, in leading a militant struggle for freedom, for spearheading an international campaign to isolate apartheid, for being the glue that kept the African National Congress (ANC) together in exile, in the struggle for the creation of a non-racial, non-sexist, free, just and democratic South Africa, which belongs to all who live in it.
Profile of Oliver Reginald Kaizana “OR” Tambo

Oliver Reginald Tambo was born on 27 October 1917 in the rural town of Mbizana, in eastern Mpondoland in the Eastern Cape. His parents converted to Christianity shortly before he was born. He began his formal education aged seven at the Ludeke Methodist School in the Mbizana district and completed his primary education at the Holy Cross Mission. He then transferred to Johannesburg to attend St Peters College, in Rossettenville, where he completed his high school education.

Tambo matriculated at St Peters with a number of distinctions and then went on to study at the University College of Fort Hare, near Alice, where he obtained his BSc Degree in 1941. It was at Fort Hare that he first became involved in politics. He led a student class boycott in support of a demand to form a democratically elected students’ representative council. As a consequence, he was expelled from Fort Hare and unable to complete his BSc Honours Degree.

In 1942, he returned to St Peters College as a Science and Mathematics teacher, where he taught many who would later play prominent roles in the ANC. Among these, was Duma Nokwe who became the first African advocate of the Supreme Court and was later elected secretary-general of the ANC.

He was among the founding members of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) in 1944 and became its first secretary. In the ANCYL, Tambo teamed up with Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, AP Mda and others to bring a bold, new spirit of militancy into the post-war ANC. Tambo was elected onto the Transvaal Executive of the ANC in 1946. In 1948 he, together with Sisulu, was elected onto the National Executive Committee. This was of great significance to the ANCYL’s efforts to change the ANC.

Tambo left teaching soon after the adoption of the Programme of Action and set up a legal partnership with Mandela. The firm soon became known as a champion of the poor and victims of apartheid laws with little or no money to pay their legal costs. During the Campaign of Defiance of Unjust Laws of 1952, Tambo was among the numerous volunteers who courted imprisonment by deliberately breaking apartheid laws. Together with Mandela, Sisulu, Chief Albert Luthuli and 153 others, Tambo was arrested and charged with high treason in December 1957.

In 1958, Tambo left the position of secretary-general to become the deputy president of the ANC. The following year, he like many of his colleagues, was served with a five-year banning order. After the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, Tambo was asked by the ANC to travel abroad to set up the ANC’s international mission and mobilise international opinion in opposition to the apartheid system.

Working in conjunction with Dr Yusuf Dadoo of the Transvaal Indian Congress, he was instrumental in the establishment of the South African United Front, which brought together the external missions of the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress, the South African Indian Congress and the South West African National Union. As a result of a lobbying campaign it conducted, the South African United Front was able to secure the expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth in 1961.

Assisted by African governments, Oliver established ANC missions in Egypt, Ghana, Morocco and London. From these small beginnings and under his stewardship, the ANC had acquired missions in 27 countries by 1990. These included all the permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, with the exception of China, two missions in Asia and one in Australasia.

Tambo was also an important factor in securing the cooperation of numerous African governments in providing training and camp facilities for the ANC.

In 1965, Tanzania and Zambia gave the ANC camp facilities to house trained Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) combatants. In 1967, after the death of ANC president-general Chief Albert Luthuli, Tambo became acting president until accession to the presidency was approved by the Morogoro Conference in 1969. He was elected chairperson of the ANC‘s Revolutionary Council (RC), which was set up at the Morogoro Conference to reconstruct the ANC’s internal machinery, improve its underground capacity and pursue the armed struggle in earnest. The slow but steady rebuilding of the ANC’s organisational structure was vindicated after the Soweto Uprising of 1976, but thereafter hundreds of young militants were received and trained by the ANC, enabling the movement to resume armed action against the apartheid regime. Many young people swelled the ranks of MK and played a critical role in advancing the struggle during the following decades.

During the 1970s, Tambo’s international prestige rose immensely as he traversed the world, addressing the UN and other international gatherings on the issue of apartheid. On his initiative, the ANC was the first liberation movement to adhere to the Geneva Conventions on the Humane Conduct of War.

In 1985, Tambo was re-elected ANC President at the Kabwe Conference. In that capacity, he served also as the Head of the Politico-Military Council (PMC) of the ANC and as Commander in Chief of MK. Among black South African leaders, Tambo was probably the most highly respected on the African continent, in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

During his stewardship of the ANC, he raised its international prestige and status to that of an alternative to the Pretoria Government. He was received with the protocol reserved for heads of state in many parts of the world.

During his years in the ANC, Tambo played a major role in the growth and development of the movement and its policies. He was among the generation of African nationalist leaders who emerged after the Second World War who were instrumental in the transformation of the ANC from a liberal-constitutionalist organisation into a radical national liberation movement, capable and willing to challenge the apartheid regime on the battlefield.

Oliver Tambo presided over the ANC that was taking the fight to the enemy. The rise of the ANC’s popularity after the Soweto Uprisings was largely due to his efforts. Owing to the reconstruction of the ANC’s underground capacity, the movement was instrumental in the establishment of the mass democratic formations that emerged during the 1980s, including trade unions, civic bodies and the United Democratic Fund while MK also escalated its attacks against apartheid targets.

Tambo directed the South African struggle from Lusaka and was responsible for making the struggle against apartheid not merely a South African issue, but raised it to an international moral crusade against racism. The campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and all other political prisoners became an international rallying call that drew in the support of the world’s leading artists, thinkers, academics and thousands of public figures. His indefatigable efforts led to the increasing isolation of the apartheid regime, culminating in the Anti-Apartheid Act, passed with an overwhelming majority by the United States Congress in 1987.

Tambo united all anti-apartheid forces behind the vision of the ANC. His leadership skills and vision was the cohesive force that held the ANC together for three decades. His work in developing the Harare Declaration and ensuring its adoption by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the UN ensured that the ANC was at the centre of whatever settlement would emerge around South Africa.

Unfortunately, on the eve of the OAU‘s adoption of the Harare Declaration in 1989, Oliver Tambo suffered a stroke and underwent extensive medical treatment. He returned to South Africa in 1990, after over three decades in exile.

At the ANC’s 49th National Conference, held in Durban, South Africa, in July 1991, after 30 years of illegality, Oliver Tambo could confidently report that he had fulfilled the mandate of keeping the ANC together, and he handed over the movement to Nelson Mandela to lead it to the final lap of the struggle. Tambo was elected national chairperson of the ANC. He was also was also chairperson of the ANC’s Emancipation Commission, charged with promoting the emancipation of women.

He served as ANC president from 1967 to 1991 – the longest-serving ANC president. OR Tambo died from a stroke on 24 April 1993, shortly after witnessing the death of Chris Hani, former chief of MK and a hero of the liberation struggle.