Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki was born on 18 June 1942 in Idutywa in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Both his parents were teachers and activists. Govan Mbeki, his father was a university graduate and there were many books at home, which Mbeki read from an early age.
Govan Mbeki spent long periods away from home, as he was a leading figure in the activities of the African National Congress in the Eastern Cape. Being activists, his parents assumed that their arrest was imminent, and therefore they decided that family and friends would also be co-responsible for rearing their children. Mbeki was 14 when he joined the ANC’s Youth League and soon found himself active in student politics.
His schooling at Lovedale was interrupted by a student strike in 1959, so he had to complete his studies at home. He then went to Johannesburg where he came under the guidance of leaders such as Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe who were to become cornerstones of the anti-apartheid struggle.
While studying for his British A-levels Mbeki was elected secretary of the African Students’ Association (ASA). He carried on with his study in economics as a correspondence student with London University. The ASA fell apart when many of its members were arrested during the political turmoil at that time due to the increasing clampdown from the state. His father was arrested along with Nelson Mandela and other prominent ANC leaders, and sentenced to life imprisonment during the well-known Rivonia Treason Trial.
The ANC told him to leave the country as it believed him to be too valuable a cog in its operations. He left in 1962 via Tanzania to Britain where he completed a Masters degree in economics at Sussex University in 1966. He remained active in student politics, and played a leading role in developing the youth and student sections of the ANC in exile.
Following his studies he worked at the London office with the late Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo in building up ANC relations abroad, before being sent to the Soviet Union in 1970 for military training with short periods spent in Lusaka, Botswana, Swaziland and Nigeria.
Later in 1970 he went to Lusaka, and was soon appointed assistant secretary of the Revolutionary Council. During the following decade he had to move frequently. During 1973-74 he went to Botswana for discussions with the Botswana government regarding the establishment of an ANC office there. In 1975 he acted as ANC representative in Swaziland and in the same year he was appointed to the National Executive Council of the ANC. Later that year he moved again, and served as ANC representative to Nigeria until 1978.
When he returned to Lusaka he became political secretary in the office of Oliver Tambo, and then became Director of Information. This position enabled him to turn the tide of international opinion against apartheid. His secondary role in the ’70s was the formation of the ANC in Swaziland as well as underground structures inside the country.
When the ANC was unbanned in 1988, Mbeki was elected to head the ANC’s Department of International Affairs, a credit to his perceived statesmanship, charisma and personable charm. As from 1989 Mbeki headed the ANC Department of International Affairs, and he was a key figure in their negotiations with the previous government.
When South Africa’s first Government of National Unity was declared, subsequent to the first free elections in 1994, President Nelson Mandela personally handpicked Mbeki to become the Deputy President of the country’s new Government of National Unity. As Mandela’s role in the government became increasingly more that of a figurehead, Mbeki began to assume greater control for the day-to-day running of the country.
At the 50th Conference of the African National Congress at Mafikeng in 1997, Mbeki was elected as the new President of the ANC. He was elected President of South Africa to succeed Nelson Mandela on 14 June 1999 and was inaugurated on 16 June 1999.
During the opening of parliament on 2 February 2004 South African President Mbeki addressed the nation to report back on 10 years since the end of apartheid and what has or has not been achieved.
He was sworn in for a second term in office on 27 April 2004. The date is known as “Freedom Day”, and coincided with the day of celebration in South Africa – marking 10 years of multi-racial democracy.
During the last meeting of the ANC National Cengress, Jacob Zuma took over the Precidency of the ANC.