BORN: 1942
PRESIDENCY: 1997 – 2007

People like to identify Thabo Mbeki as an independent and original thinker, but one who remains close to the more visible leadership. His profile as a policy shaper and mediator in the movement has been built up over a lifetime of involvement. “I was born into the struggle,” he says. He was born in Idutywa, Transkei, on June 18, 1942.

Both his parents were teachers and activists. His father, Govan Mbeki, is a university graduate and there were many books in his home which Thabo read at an early age. Govan was a leading figure in ANC activities in the Eastern Cape. Believing that sooner or later they would be arrested, Mbeki’s parents decided that family and friends would also be responsible for raising the children. Mbeki therefore spent long periods away from home.

He joined the Youth League at the age of 14, and quickly became active in student politics. After his schooling at Lovedale was interrupted by a strike in 1959, he completed his studies at home.

Thereafter he moved to Johannesburg where he came under the guidance of Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe.
While studying for his British A-levels he was elected secretary of the African Students’ Association (ASA). He went on to study economics as a correspondence student with London University. The ASA collapsed following the arrest of many of its members, at a time when political movements were coming under increasingly severe attack from the state.
He left the country in 1962 under orders from the ANC. From Tanzania he moved to Britain where he completed a Masters degree in economics at Sussex University in 1966. Remaining active in student politics, he played a prominent role in building the youth and student sections of the ANC in exile.

After completing his studies, he worked at the London office with the late Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo before being sent to the Soviet Union in 1970 for military training.

Later that year he arrived in Lusaka where he was soon appointed assistant secretary of the Revolutionary Council. In 1973-74 he was in Botswana holding discussions with the Botswana government about opening an ANC office in Botswana.

In 1975 he was acting ANC representative in Swaziland. Appointed to the NEC in 1975, he served as ANC representative to Nigeria until 1978.

On his return to Lusaka he became political secretary in the office of Oliver Tambo, and then director of information. From this position he played a major role in turning the international media against apartheid. His other role in the ’70s was in building the ANC in Swaziland and underground structures inside the country.

During the ’80s, Mbeki rose to head the department of information and publicity and co-ordinated diplomatic campaigns to involve more white South Africans in anti-apartheid activities.
When delegations of sports, business and cultural representatives visited Lusaka for talks they all expressed surprise to meet a man deeply engaged in the issues they brought to the table.

From 1989 Mbeki headed the ANC Department of International Affairs, and was a key figure in the ANC’s negotiations with the former government. Mbeki was hand-picked by Nelson Mandela after the April 1994 general election to be the first Deputy President of the new Government of National Unity.

Thabo Mbeki was elected President of South Africa on June 14, 1999 and was inaugurated as President on June 16, 1999.

He resigned as President of South Africa on September 24, 2008.