Oliver Tambo

Oliver Tambo, activist and former National Chairman of the African National Congress (ANC), dedicated his life to ending Apartheid.

A former teacher, Tambo became active in the ANC at a young age. Along with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisilu, Tambo created the ANC Youth League in 1940. Straying from the previous tactics of the political party, the Youth League called for a change in fighting the Apartheid regime. Instead of simple petitions, Tambo advocated boycotts, protests, and acts of civil disobedience under the ANC’s newly formed Programme of Action.

During the Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, police opened fire on protestors, killing dozens of Apartheid resistors. The international community was horrified, and Tambo knew he needed to spread the anti-Apartheid message abroad.

Fearing the backlash of the massacre, The National Party banned the ANC and began a series of treason trials to imprison prominent members of the party. While many leaders of the ANC were detained, Tambo was never convicted and remained free to lead the movement abroad, fleeing the country under what he called his Mission in Exile to gain support from the international community.

After 30 years in exile he returned to South Africa in 1991 and was elected National Chairperson at the ANC’s first legal election since the party was banned. Tambo once said, “It is our responsibility to break down barriers of division and create a country where there will be neither whites nor blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity.”

Sadly, Tambo died from a stroke in April of 1993, just one year before his fellow party member Nelson Mandela would be elected the first black President of South Africa.

To honor his memory and his service to the people of South Africa, the international airport of Johannesburg was named Oliver Tambo International Airport in 2006.