O. R. Tambo in the Period of the ANC’s Illegality
Oliver Reginald Tambo’s life is best known by his association with the African National Congress (ANC) and the struggle for liberation, and as having been the foremost leader of the ANC for most of the period of its illegality. Most accounts, however, do not mention O. R. Tambo’s religious beliefs, and in this they pass off an opportunity to highlight what could have been the source of his individual strength, his spirituality. It is this spirituality that this article seeks to highlight and whose depth it seeks to explore. It aims to show that Tambo’s personal religious beliefs were infused with his political outlook and concludes that this composite belief system provided the strength he exuded throughout his service to the struggle for liberation in South Africa. The article looks at how he related to and influenced those he came into contact with, both inside his organisation, the ANC, its military wing Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), the broader alliance, and those who were outside his close political realm. It looks at how he exercised his leadership qualities, born of his beliefs, under the pressures thrown up by the struggle, and finally how he grasped the moment at the point of the conclusion of that phase of the struggle. This article is informed by a number of sources, including books written on the subject by scholars, those who shared space with O. R. Tambo, some of his speeches, interviews, and occasionally the author’s own experience as part of the MK contingent from the late 1970s.