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Former President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki
Former President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki was born on 18 June 1942 in Idutywa, Transkei. Both his parents were teachers, intellectuals and political activists. His father was a university graduate, a fact that encouraged the young Thabo Mbeki's interest in books. Owing to the uncertainty of his family circumstances caused by constant political harassment and detention, his parents enlisted the help of relatives and friends in raising young Thabo.

He attended primary school at Idutywa and Butterworth and high school at Lovedale, Alice. While a student at the Lovedale Institute he joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). He was expelled from school as a result of student strikes (1959) and forced to continue his studies at home. He sat for matriculation examinations at St John's High School, Umtata in 1959. He completed his British "A" level examinations (1960 and 1961) and enrolled for an economics degree as an external student with the University of London (1961 - 1962). He then registered for a Masters of Economics degree at the University of Sussex in 1966. Upon completion of his studies he relocated to Johannesburg, where he met Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe: the two names that were to have a critical impact on his political life before exile. He was involved in underground activities in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand area after the African National Congress (ANC) was banned in 1960. Maturing politically, he went on to mobilize the students and youth in support of the ANC's call for a stay-away in protest against the declaration of the Republic of South Africa in 1961.

On instructions of the ANC, the young Thabo Mbeki left South Africa together with other students in 1962 for Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), passing through Tanganyika (now Tanzania), to settle in the United Kingdom (UK) to study.

He continued with his political activities as a university student in the UK, mobilizing the international student community against apartheid. Between 1967 and 1970 he worked for the ANC office in London during which time he also underwent military training in the then Soviet Union.

A fully-fledged soldier, he served as Assistant Secretary to the Revolutionary Council of the ANC in Lusaka in 1971. In 1973 he was sent to Botswana, where he was among the first ANC leaders to have contact with exiled and visiting members of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). As a result of his contact and discussions with the BCM, some of the leading members of this organization found their way into the ranks of the ANC.

The focus of his activities during this time was to consolidate the underground structures of the ANC and to mobilize the people inside South Africa. He engaged the Botswana Government in discussions to open an ANC office in that country. He then left Botswana in 1974, remaining for a short while in Zambia before the ANC once more sent him abroad, this time to Swaziland as acting representative of the ANC. Part of his task was the internal mobilization and the creation of underground structures. In 1974 he married Ms. Zanele Dlamini.

Thabo Mbeki became a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC in 1975. In 1976 he was again on the road, this time to Nigeria as a representative of the ANC where he played a major role in assisting students from South Africa to relocate in an unfamiliar environment.

Once again the political road beckoned and he left Nigeria and returned to ANC headquarters in Lusaka in 1978. In the same year he become the political secretary in the Office of the President of the ANC. Between 1984 and 1989 he was deployed as the Director of the Department of Information and Publicity.

He was re-elected to the NEC in 1985, at the same time serving as Director of Information and as Secretary for Presidential Affairs. The 1980s proved hectic for the would-be president. He became a member of the ANC's Political and Military Council; member of the delegation that met the South African business community led by the Chairman of Anglo American, Gavin Relly, at Mfuwe, Zambia (1985); led a delegation of the ANC to Dakar, Senegal, where talks were held with a delegation from the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) in 1987.

His increasing political leadership role saw him lead the ANC delegation which held secret talks with the South African Government from 1989 and which led to agreements regarding the unbanning of the ANC and the release of political prisoners. Subsequently, he would be part of the delegation which engaged the National Party Government in talks about talks. He participated in the Groote Schuur and Pretoria deliberations, which resulted in the agreements which became known as the Groote Schuur and Pretoria Minutes (1990).

Thabo Mbeki participated in all subsequent negotiations leading to the adoption of the interim Constitution for the new South Africa. In 1993, he was elected Chairperson of the ANC, succeeding the late former President and Chairperson of the ANC, Oliver R Tambo, with whom he had had a close working relationship over the years.

In subsequent years, he was elected to the following positions:

  • Executive Deputy President of the South African Government of National Unity (May 1994 - 13 June 1999)
  • President of the ANC (18 December 1997)
  • President of the Republic of South Africa (1999)
  • Chairperson of the African Union (July 2002 - July 2003)
  • President of the Republic of South Africa (2004, second term)

Thabo Mbeki has achieved the following awards:

  • Honorary Doctorate from Rand Afrikaans University (17 September 1999)
  • Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the Glasgow Caledonian University (19 May 2000)
  • Newsmaker of the Year from Pretoria Press Club (22 August 2000)
  • Member of the Steering Committee of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad)
 Union Building