OR Tambo School of Leadership is an autonomous educational institution, established by the African National Congress (ANC), to build the ideological, intellectual and organizational capacity of the ANC and broader democratic movement.
Centre of Excellence for Political Education
Developing Cadres For Social Change
The ANC Political School is named after Oliver Reginald Tambo, popularly known as OR. This decision honours the outstanding contribution that OR made in the struggle to liberate South Africa from the clutches of colonialism and apartheid. OR Tambo was as a leader of the exiled African National Congress (ANC) for three decades. He deservedly earned the reputation as one of the most eminent leaders that South Africa has ever produced.
OR Tambo was a man of extraordinary intellect and vision. Born in a remote village of Nkantolo in Mbizana in humble circumstances, OR demonstrated signs of leadership early on in his life.
Together with his village mates, he established the Bizana Students Association to which he was elected the secretary. The aim of the organization was to organize activities for students and the youth in the village so that they would not idle during school holidays. Even at this early age, OR showed what would become his signature leadership characteristic later on in life: total commitment not to position but to service to the people. For instance, when he was offered the position of Head Prefect at St Peter’s Secondary School in Rosettenvile, he declined the position in favour of another student and instead took up the position of deputy prefect.
Tambo combined his exceptional leadership quality with total dedication to education and his studies. In November 1936 he wrote his Junior Certificate examinations in the Transvaal province. The examination was taken by both white and black students in the province. For the first time in the history of education in the province, two African students passed the examination first class. Tambo was one of those two African students. That achievement enabled him to go to the University of Fort Hare, where he met his contemporaries such as Nelson Mandela and other leaders of what became the ANC Youth League.
Although he was not able to pursue his chosen field of study, which was medicine, OR did a BSc degree at Fort Hare and also excelled in his studies. He was at the forefront of student leadership and was active in the progressive student Christian organisation called Students Christian Association.
In the early 1940s OR became one of the founder members of the ANC Youth League. He was also active in the political revival of the ANC around the 1940s. In 1954 he was elected Secretary General of the ANC when he was only 37 years old. Three years later he was elected Deputy President of the ANC, deputizing the legendary Chief Albert Luthuli. Tambo served in all these important positions while running a busy legal practice which he cofounded with Nelson Mandela.
When the ANC and other liberation movements were banned in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre it fell on Tambo to establish the mission in exile, a position of responsibility he performed with exceptional distinction.
When Luthuli died in the 1960s OR assumed the overall leadership of the ANC, a position he held for three decades. He mobilized international support for the liberation struggle in South Africa and held the disparate elements of the ANC and its political allies in the broader liberation movement together. He became the commander in chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe – military wing of the ANC – and was ultimately responsible for its many legions of young recruits who left South Africa to join the liberation struggle in exile.
It is no exaggeration to suggest that the long winter of exile would probably have killed the ANC had it not been for the steady and wise leadership of OR. His was a style of leadership that was fair, inclusive and embracing of the disparate fragments of the liberation movement. Whilst they succeeded in some cases, his was a leadership that overcame the infiltration of the ANC by hostile agents of the apartheid regime who sought to turn combatants for liberation against their own comrades and people.
When the political conditions changed in the 1980s and possibilities for a negotiated political settlement in South Africa became possible, Tambo had the foresight to lead the ANC to prepare for the tough political negotiations that laid ahead. It was because of his visionary leadership that the ANC was able to hold its own during the negotiations of the early 1990s and that the political transition in South Africa was as relatively stable and short as it ultimately became.
It is because of this record of transformative leadership underpinned by values of humility, selflessness, foresight, inclusiveness that the ANC Political School should be named after OR and it must seek to espouse what he was about in its character and offerings. Oliver Reginald Tambo was an intellectual leader who valued the power of persuasive argument and ideas. This element of leadership—a leader who values ideas and their power—is critical to evolution of the ANC and South Africa.