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Remembering Oliver Reginald “O.R.” Tambo: 7 quotes

Today Africa celebrates the legacy of a South African struggle icon, Oliver Reginald Tambo, born in Bizana, Transkei (now Eastern Cape) in 1917. We pay homage to the struggle hero by remembering the words he left us with in his quest to see South Africa free.



A South African struggle icon, Oliver Reginald Tambo is born in Bizana, in 1917. Fondly known as O. R., Tambo was a fervent anti-apartheid politician and revolutionary who led the African National Congress (ANC).

Tambo served as President of the ANC from 1967 to 1991.

In the 1940s Tambo enrolled at the University of Fort Hare where became politically conscious. He was heavily involved in student politics and activism and he was among the students who led the student boycott at Fort Hare, which called for the reconstitution of a democratically elected Student’s Representative Council (SRC). Tambo bore the brunt of his activism and he was expelled from the institution, and he could not complete his Bachelor of Science honours degree.

He later moved to Johannesburg to teach and joined hands with other political activists, and the struggle stalwarts were instrumental in the formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944, a vibrant and militant youth wing of the party.

Tambo dedicated his life to fighting racial inequality and the Apartheid regime’s racial segregation policies. He was sent abroad by the ANC to mobilise opposition to Apartheid and he led the campaign until he returned to his home country.

He passed away on 24 April 1993 at the age of 75 due to complications from a major stroke.

During his lifetime, Tambo inspired the world with his great leadership, fight against colonialism and racial inequality. We celebrate Tambo’s life and share with you a selection of some of his most profound and inspirational quotes.

1. “We seek to create a united Democratic and non-racial society. We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity. Using the power you derive from the discovery of the truth about racism in South Africa, you will help us to remake our part of the world into a corner of the globe on which all — of which all of humanity can be proud.” – A speech at Georgetown University in January, 1987.

File picture (1981-10-18) Oliver Tambo, president of South Africa’s African National Congress during a visit to the Netherlands. Photo: ANP

2. “We are not fighting against people, we are fighting against a system”.

3. “Some of us don’t like violence at all. I have an abhorrence of violence – I even take insects out of the bath. But we are forced into violence. I, for example, won’t hunt to kill because I do not like to kill”.

4. “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”.

5. “We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity”.

6. “What I condemn, with all the vehemence I can muster, is the fact that for three quarters of a century we have been victims of white minority rule, which has progressively become more violent against us up to the point where it assumes the forms we are witnessing”.

7. “The fight for freedom must go on until it is won; until our country is free and happy and peaceful as part of the community of man, we cannot rest”.