Tambo (fondly known as O. R.) was born on 27 October 1917 in the village of Nkantolo in Bizana in eastern Pondoland in what is now Eastern Cape. His father, Mzimeni Tambo, the son of a farmer and an assistant salesperson at a local trading store. Mzimeni had four wives and ten children with all of them were illiterate. His mother, Mzimeni's third wife was called Julia. He attended a school at Holy Cross Mission School with his brother in April 1928, and then transferred to St. Peter's in Johannesburg. Tambo matriculated in 1938 as one of the top students. After this Tambo qualified to do his university degree at the University of Fort Hare. In 1940 he, along with several others including Nelson Mandela, was expelled from Fort Hare University for participating in a student strike. In 1942 Tambo returned to his former high school in Johannesburg to teach science and mathematics. Tambo, along with Mandela and Walter Sisulu, were the founding members of the ANC Youth League in 1943, becoming its first National Secretary and a member of the National Executive in 1948. The youth league proposed a change in tactics of the anti-apartheid movement. Previously the ANC had sought to further its cause by actions such as petitions and demonstrations; the Youth League felt these actions were insufficient to achieve the group's goals and proposed their own 'Programme of Action'. This program advocated tactics such as boycotts, civil disobedience, strikes and non-collaboration.
Tambo being greeted on arrival in East Germany (1978) In 1955, Tambo became Secretary General of the ANC after Walter Sisulu was banned by the South African government under the Suppression of Communism Act. In 1958 he became Deputy President of the ANC and in 1959 was served with a five-year banning order by the government.
In response, Tambo was sent abroad by the ANC to mobilize opposition to apartheid. He settled with his family in Muswell Hill, north London, where he lived until 1990. He was involved in the formation of the South African Democratic Front. In 1967, Tambo became Acting President of the ANC, following the death of Chief Albert Lutuli.
The post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified Tambo as the person who gave final approval for the 1983 Church Street bombing, which resulted in the death of 17 people and injuries to 197. In a 1985 interview, Tambo was quoted as saying, "In the past, we were saying the ANC will not deliberately take innocent life. But now, looking at what is happening in South Africa, it is difficult to say civilians are not going to die."
In 1985 he was re-elected President of the ANC. He returned to South Africa on 13 December 1990 after over 30 years in exile, and was elected National Chairperson of the ANC in July of the same year. Tambo died aged 75 due to complications from a stroke on 24 April 1993.
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