African National Congress President Oliver Tambo returned to South Africa Thursday after 30 years in exile, and thousands of wildly cheering supporters hailed the opposition leader.

Tambo was welcomed by Nelson Mandela, the ANC's deputy president and the anti-apartheid organization's leading figure, and other senior leaders when his plane from Zimbabwe touched down at Jan Smuts Airport.Foreign diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador William Swing, were at the airport to greet Tambo.

About 5,000 people, some singing and dancing, stood outside the airport to welcome Tambo.

"Viva Tambo!" the crowds chanted as they waited for a glimpse of him.

The 73-year-old Tambo, who is in poor health after a recent stroke, is expected to remain in South Africa for about three weeks. He will open the ANC's consultative congress that begins Friday in Johannesburg.

The former lawyer and schoolteacher has been overshadowed, partly due to poor health, by Mandela. Some news reports have suggested Tambo will never again play a major role in the ANC, but the organization insists he will not step down.

Tambo greeted ANC leaders and other guests on the airport tarmac, warmly embracing South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo.

Asked how he was feeling, the beaming Tambo, using a cane, said, "Fine, fine, fine."