South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Thabo Mbeki

(June 18, 1942 - )

Thabo Mbeki was born in Idutywa in Transkei on June 18 1942. Both his parents were activists, and his father, Govan Mbeki, was a leading figure in the activities of the African National Congress (ANC) in Eastern Cape. The young Mbeki joined the ANC Youth League at the age of 14 and became active in student politics.

After his schooling at Lovedale Academy was interrupted by a strike in 1959, he completed his studies at home.

He moved to Johannesburg where he came under the guidance of Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe and was elected secretary of the African Students' Association (ASA). The ASA collapsed following the arrest of many of its members at a time when political movements were folding under increasingly severe attacks from the state and Mbeki went on to study economics via correspondence with London University.

Mbeki left South Africa for Tanzania in 1962 under orders from the ANC, after his father was arrested at Rivonia and sentenced to life imprisonment. From Tanzania he moved to Britain where he completed a Masters degree in economics at Sussex University in 1966.

He remained active in student politics and played a prominent role in building the youth and student sections of the ANC in exile. He worked at the ANC's London office with the late Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo before being sent to the Soviet Union for military training in 1970.

Later in 1970 Mbeki went to Lusaka to become the assistant secretary of the Revolutionary Council. Over the next five years Mbeki was active in Botswana. In 1973 and 1974 he was in Botswana holding discussions with the their government about opening an ANC office there.

By 1975 Mbeki was acting ANC representative in Swaziland. Appointed to the ANC's national executive committee 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 1970s was in building both the ANC in Swaziland and underground structures inside the country.

During the 1980s Mbeki rose to head the department of information and publicity and coordinated diplomatic campaigns to involve more white South Africans in anti-apartheid activities. In 1989 Mbeki headed the ANC's department of international affairs and was involved in the ANC's negotiations with the former government.

After South Africa's first democratic election in April 1994, Nelson Mandela chose Mbeki to be the first deputy president in the new Government of National Unity. The National Party withdrew from the Government of National Unity in June 1996 and Mbeki then became the sole deputy president.

At the 50th Conference of the ANC at Mafikeng, from 16-20 1997, Thabo Mbeki was elected as the new President of the African National Congress.

Thabo Mbeki was elected President of South Africa on 14 June 1999 and was inaugurated as President on 16 June 1999. He was President of South African until 24 September 2008.


This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
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