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Oliver Tambo

(1917—1993) South African politician


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(1917–1993)

South African political leader and anti-apartheid activist who spent thirty years in exile before returning to his native country.

The son of a peasant farmer, Oliver Tambo was born at Bizana in the Transkei and educated at the Ludeke Methodist Mission School (1924–29), the Anglican Holy Cross Mission School (1929–33), and St Peter's Secondary School, Johannesburg (1933–38). The Anglican priest Father Trevor Huddleston (1913–98), a lifelong campaigner against apartheid, was a strong influence. After attending university at Fort Hare, Tambo took a correspondence course in law and became a teacher at St Peter's School. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and became vice-president of its youth league the following year. From 1951 onwards Tambo practised as a lawyer in Johannesburg, rising within the ranks of the ANC to become its secretary-general in 1955.

Shortly afterwards, as he contemplated entering the priesthood, Tambo was arrested and detained (1956–57) on charges of treason, which were later dropped. In 1960, still officially banned from attending political meetings, Tambo escaped to London. As acting president of the ANC from 1967 and president from 1977, Tambo was for thirty years the effective head and international spokesman of a South African anti-apartheid government in exile, while its inspiring leader, Nelson Mandela, remained in gaol. Returning at last to South Africa in 1990, Tambo stepped down from the presidency of the ANC the following year on grounds of failing health, to be replaced by the newly released Mandela.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Religion.


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