Quotable OR Tambo

Born in 1917, OR Tambo would have been 100 years old this year. He is remembered as a selfless and accessible leader, as a man who cultivated personal relationships with people he knew and always remembered people’s names.

OR Tambo and Nelson Mandela were leaders who inspired through their oratory. (Image: Brand South Africa)

Brand South Africa reporter

He has been eulogized as an inspiration to activists. A man whose towering intellect was evidence of his broad ranging interests. He is also remembered as an orator who inspired who inspired loyalty through his leadership.

Below is a list of his most interesting speeches from his time in exile.

Acting as self-confident and conscious makers of history, as liberators, we, the offsprings of the so-called Dark Continent, destroyed and buried an entire historical epoch that had been imposed on the peoples of the universe by the ruling classes of an allegedly enlightened Europe and North America. We who were described as backwards became the midwives of the new social reality of independent people, the reality of the collapse of the colonial system, and confounded those who, having invested themselves with an omnipotent and omniscient personality, had thought such a result impossible, undesirable and even inconceivable.

  • OAU Liberation Committee, Arusha, 10 February 1983

We are one people today. This means we are recapturing our glorious past. We were one people. History put us together on this continent from time immemorial. We evolved together, shared a common African culture, traded with one another and dealt each with the other as human beings, whether in times of war or in times of peace, whether in circumstances of hunger or in conditions of plenty.

  • Frelimo Mass rally at Bairro De Liberdade, Maputo, 14 February 1982

As we look back over these past twenty years, our glorious martyrs stand out before us: men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for the people`s cause; fighters who stood rock-solid in the face of fascist brutality, refusing to submit; soldiers who fought from the frontline, fearless and firm in their conviction of the certainty of victory.

  • on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Formation of Umkhonto We Sizwe, 16 December 1981

It is true that man is mainly concerned with his day-to-day affairs. But it is also true that youth, by their very nature, are curious as to what lies behind these problems.

  • second Pan-African Youth Seminar Dar Es Salaam, 5 August 1961

The objective of our struggle in South Africa, as set out in the Freedom Charter, encompasses economic emancipation. It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the country to the people as a whole. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the roots of racial supremacy and exploitation, and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.

  • 60th Anniversary of the South African Communist Party, London, 30 July 1981


The pursuit of the certainties of a bygone age has itself become the gravedigger of fond hopes that injustice could be rationalised into a system of thought, implemented as a practice and imposed as a decree and be accepted by the victims of that injustice. Illusions closely held for many a year, that white minority rule would last an eternity, are stalking all the enclaves of white South Africa, proclaiming everywhere that, in fact, they are illusions, fleeting shadows without substance.

  • second National Consultative Conference of the ANC, Kabwa Zambia, 16 June 1985

South Africa today is a country of immense inequalities. The bedrock of our perspective is our commitment to the establishment of democracy in a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

  • OR Tambo in a statement to the Business International Conference, 27 May 1987 in London:

“They (women) have a duty to liberate us men from antique concepts and attitudes about the place and role of women in society and in the development and direction of our revolutionary struggle.”

  • OR Tambo: at the concluding session of the Conference of the Women`s Section of the ANC, Luanda, 14 September 1981

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