Petrus Kgalema Motlanthe became the third ANC President of the Republic of South Africa (the twelfth President of the country since 1961) when he succeeded Thabo Mbeki on 25 September 2008. Unlike his predecessors, Mandela and Mbeki, who were real rural youngsters, he was born in Alexandra, Johannesburg on 19 July 1949 as the eldest son of his parents’ six children. Motlanthe’s father.was employed at the head office of Anglo-American and his mother was a washer woman who who were later employed in a clothing factory.
During 1959 the Motlanthe family moved from Alexandra to Meadowlands in Soweto just south of Johannesburg. Motlanthe matriculated (obtained Grade 12) from the Orlando High School in Soweto, and was then employed by the City Council of Johannesburg. He worked there as a supervisor for about seven years. He was an avid soccer player who played for Spa Sporting Club in Pretoria and Rockville Hungry Lions in Soweto.
Early in the 1970s Motlanthe was recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation – military wing of the African National Congress). He formed part of a unit that had the task of recruiting members for military training. This component, at a later stage, was instructed to change its role from recruitment of members for training to the execution of sabotage. He grew up under the influence and the revolutionary ideologies of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) leader, Steve Biko.
In 1976, at the age of 28, following the infamous 1976 Soweto student uprising, he was kept in custody at John Vorster Square (Police station) in central Johannesburg for 11 months. He was on trial with Stanley Nkosi and Joseph Mosoeu in February 1977 on Terrorism Act charges, was found guilty, and was later sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on Robben Island.
Shortly after his release in April 1978 Motlanthe was elected Secretary-General of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). After the ANC was unbanned in the early 1990’s he became chairman of the party in the Pretoria/Witwatersrand/Vereeniging-area. He changed from this position in September 1991 to give himself the opportunity to devote more time to his work for NUM.
When Cyril Ramaphosa retired from politics in 1997, Motlanthe was elected Secretary-General of the ANC – a position that he held until recently. Motlanthe is the Deputy President of the ruling African National Congress. He was elected to this position at the party’s 52nd National Conference in Polokwane during December 2007. He became a Member of Parliament in May 2008, and in July 2008 he was appointed to the cabinet by President Thabo Mbeki as Minister without Portfolio.
Motlanthe is married with two daughters and a son.