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No evidence Tambo said ‘a corrupt ANC will be far worse than apartheid’

There’s no evidence anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko said: “Apartheid doesn’t keep you alive unless it’s going to use you later.” The same goes for a widely shared quote about white people attributed to former Mozambican president Samora Machel.

Another controversial quote is now circulating online, this time said to be by Oliver Tambo, the former president of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC).

“A corrupt ANC will be far worse than apartheid,” it reads, on a black and white graphic with a photo of Tambo.  

Tambo died in 1993. Is there any evidence that he ever said or wrote this?

Biographers have never encountered quote

An online search for the phrase didn’t return any obvious clues. Africa Check then spoke to people who had written extensively about Tambo’s life. 

Pallo Jordan, who started working as a researcher for the ANC in 1975, edited the biography Oliver Tambo Remembered. He’s also on the board of the Oliver and Adelaide Tambo Foundation, an organisation that works to promote and preserve the couple’s legacy.

“I, frankly, do not recall hearing or reading such a quote from Oliver Tambo,” Jordan said. “One cannot, of course, vouch for every word he pronounced or wrote but I have not come across it myself.”

Dr Hugh Macmillan, author of another Tambo biography, told Africa Check he had never come across the quote in his research. 

Retired ambassador Lindiwe Mabuza has been a member of the ANC since 1975. She has edited two collections of poems, letters and other writing related to Tambo.

“I can never by any stretch of the imagination associate that doomsday utterance with Oliver Reginald Tambo,” she said. 

‘Never, ever, ever, ever’

Africa Check also spoke to people who spent time with Tambo and knew him intimately. 

Retired constitutional court judge Albie Sachs worked closely with Tambo to draft the ANC’s code of conduct in the 1980s. He also serves on the board of the Tambo foundation.

“He would never have used that comparison, ever, ever, ever,” Sachs said. 

Secondly, the theme of corruption just wasn’t on the agenda as a major preoccupation in ANC ranks during his lifetime. [Tambo] died before our first democratic elections. The focus was on bringing apartheid down, not on misconduct once in office.”

‘Highly unlikely Tambo ever said this’

Mavuso Msimang was Tambo’s secretary and a member of uMkhonto weSizwe, the armed wing of the ANC. He is currently CEO of the Tambo foundation

He said he had seen the quote online but believed it was “highly unlikely that Oliver Tambo ever said this”. 

The quote has no source, date or reference. Africa Check was unable to find any credible evidence linking it to Tambo. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Pallo Jordan was the author of Oliver Tambo Remembered. He was the editor. We apologise for the error. 


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