Thabo Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki is the South African politician who succeeded Nelson Mandela as the President of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Republic of South Africa, prior to that he was Nelson Mandela‘s deputy in the ANC and South Africa. He served as the second post-apartheid President of South Africa but did not finish his second term in office following his attempt at the third term of the ANC Presidency at the 2007 Polokwane Elective Conference of the ANC and defeat to Jacob Zuma. He was later recalled by the ANC and Kgalema Motlanthe was deployed to serve the remainder of his second term.

Born Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki
June 18, 1942
Eastern Cape
South Africa
Nationality South African
Political Party ANC
Occupation Politician
Wife Zanele Mbeki
Children Monwabisi Kwanda
Education University of London
University of Sussex

2nd President of South Africa

June 14, 1999 – September 24, 2008
Deputy Jacob Zuma
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
Preceded By Nelson Mandela
Succeeded By Kgalema Motlanthe

1st Deputy President of South Africa

May 10, 1994 – June 14, 1999
with F.W. de Klerk until June 30, 1996
President Nelson Mandela
Preceded By Office Established
Succeeded By Jacob Zuma

12th President of the ANC

December 1997 – December 18, 2007
Deputy Jacob Zuma
Preceded By Nelson Mandela
Succeeded By Jacob Zuma

1st Commonwealth Chairperson-in-Office

November 12, 1999 – March 2, 2002
Head Queen Elizabeth II
Preceded By Position Established
Succeeded By John Howard

Thabo Mbeki was born Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki in Mbewuleni in the Cape Province, Union of South Africa, today’s Eastern Cape province of the Republic of South Africa.

He was raised there (Mbewuleni). Thabo Mbeki is one of four children of Epainette Mbeki and Govan Mbeki.

Famed Political and Economic commentator Moeletsi Mbeki is his younger brother.

Thabo Mbeki’s father, Govan Mbeki, was a stalwart of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Thabo Mbeki is a native Xhosa speaker.

His parents were both teachers and activists in a rural area of ANC strength, and Thabo Mbeki describes himself as “born into the struggle.

A portrait of Karl Marx sat on the family mantelpiece, and a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi was on the wall.

Thabo Mbeki attended primary school in Idutywa and Butterworth and later went to  high school at Lovedale, Alice.

In 1959 he was expelled from high school due to student strikes and forced to continue studies at home. Later that year he wrote his matric examinations at St. John’s High School, Umtata.

In the years that followed he completed British A-levels examinations and undertook an economics degree as an external student with the University of London.

This was at the time when the ANC was banned and Thabo Mbeki was involved in underground activities in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand area.

He was also involved in mobilizing students in support of the ANC call for a stay at home to be held in protest of South Africa’s becoming a republic.

In December 1961 Thabo Mbeki was elected secretary of the African Students’ Association and the following year, in 1962, he left South Africa on instructions of the African National Congress (ANC).

His father, Govan Mbeki, had come to the rural Eastern Cape as a political activist after earning two university degrees.

Govan Mbeki urged his family to make the ANC their family, and of his children, Thabo Mbeki is the one who most clearly followed that instruction, joining the party at age 14 and devoting his life to it thereafter.

In 196 Thabo Mbeki and a group of comrades left South Africa disguised as a football team.

They travelled in a minibus to Botswana and flew from there to Tanzania, where Thabo Mbeki accompanied Kenneth Kaunda to London. Kaunda later became Zambia’s post-independence president.



In London Thabo Mbeki stayed with Oliver Tambo, who became the effective leader of the ANC after Mandela was imprisoned. Thabo Mbeki worked part-time with Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo while studying economics at Sussex University in the coastal town of Brighton.

At one point Thabo Mbeki shared a flat with two other students, Mike Yates and Derek Gunby. Together they would become firm friends and frequent a local bar when they were not discussing politics and listening to music. It was here that Mbeki developed a deep love for Brecht and Shakespeare and an appreciation of Yeats. He also came to love the blues.

In February 1963 three months after he arrived at the University, Thabo Mbeki was elected onto the Student Union Committee. By April of that year he was one of 28 signatories petitioning in support of “Spies for Peace”, a document that revealed secret information about Britain’s plans for civil defence and government in the event of a nuclear attack.

On July 11, 1963 the ANC High Command was caught at Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, among those caught was Govan Mbeki. To hold the prisoners, the General Laws Amendment Act, Number 37 of 1963, was rushed through Parliament and applied retroactively to June 27, 1962, mainly but not exclusively so that the people arrested at Rivonia could be detained and held in solitary confinement.

In July 1963 Thabo Mbeki began mobilizing international support against apartheid. Horrified at the Act, he led a successful motion in the Student Union to condemn the move and join the boycott of South African goods.

Thabo Mbeki strongly condemned the South African government’s new restrictions on political activity and likened it to in the politics of Nazi Germany.

In April 1964 he appeared before a delegation of the United Nations (UN) Special Committee against Apartheid to plead for the life of his father, who by then had been charged with planning an armed uprising against the state. The death penalty seemed a certainty for all the Rivonia Treason Trialists. This was the first time Thabo Mbeki had spoken about his father from the perspective of a son, but the biological category was converted into a political context.

On October 6 the Rivonia Trialists were formally charged.

On June 13, 1964 Thabo Mbeki organized a march from Brighton to London after the Rivonia Trialists were found guilty of high treason. They were expected to be sentenced to death. The students held a night march to 10 Downing Street and handed a petition, signed by 664 staff and students at Sussex University, to the Prime Minister. Thereafter, they held a demonstration outside South Africa House in Trafalgar Square.

The next day London television showed Thabo Mbeki leading the march. This kind of lobbying helped the Trialists who were spared the hangman’s noose. For the next three decades Thabo Mbeki would take up the job of rallying support against apartheid.

In May 1965 Thabo Mbeki completed his bachelor’s degree in economics at Sussex University. With his own parents unable to attend his graduation ceremony, Adelaide Tambo and Michael Harmel took their place at the event. While in London, Thabo Mbeki spent all of his summers with the Tambo family.

After completing his first degree Thabo Mbeki planned to join uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and he sought permission to do so, but this plan was vetoed by Oliver Tambo who advised him to do a Master’s degree.

Tambo+MbekiIn October 1965 Thabo Mbeki returned to Sussex for one year to do his Masters in Economics and Development. Thabo Mbeki at this time shared a flat with Peter Lawrence and Ingram, situated at 3 Sillwood Street. While in England, Thabo Mbeki supported the Labour Party, led by Harold Wilson at the time.

Thabo Mbeki was intensely critical of the New Left revision of Marxism that swept Europe in the latter half of the 1960s and remained ardently loyal to the Soviet Union, which at the time heavily sponsored the ANC’s underground movement, providing them with financial and educational support, as well as arms and military training.

On May 18, 1966 Thabo Mbeki organized a 24-hour vigil at the Clock Tower in Brighton’s central square against Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Rhodesia.

In October 1966 Thabo Mbeki moved to London to work for the ANC full-time. During this period he met his wife to be, Zanele Dlamini, a social worker from Alexandra Township in Johannesburg, who was also studying in London. Zanele had just moved to London at this time.

n 1966 Thabo Mbeki appealed to Oliver Tambo to allow any South African student who supported the ANC to be admitted into the movement’s Youth and Students Section (YSS), irrespective of race – Oliver Tambo agreed and the YSS became the first non-racial arm of the ANC. In the same year the ANC upheld its decision to exclude non-Africans from its National Executive meeting in Dar-es Salaam.

Thabo Mbeki kept himself busy with issues such as the protest against increases in student fees for foreign students, nuclear disarmament, and solidarity struggles with the peoples of Zimbabwe, Spain, Cyprus, Iraq, Iran and Vietnam, as well as Portuguese-controlled territories. The YSS took an active role in the anti-Vietnam War movement, a campaign spearheaded by Thabo Mbeki.

This led to Thabo Mbeki’s friend, Essop Pahad, being elected onto the organizing committee of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC). The YSS became a major player in the anti-war marches.

On March 17, 1968 Thabo Mbeki took part in a massive anti-Vietnam demonstration outside the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square and had his upper right molar tooth cracked when he was attacked by a policeman. Although he was arraigned and arrested for his part in the demonstration, he was not one of the 246 that were eventually charged.

In May 1968 he completed his Master’s degree at Sussex University.

In February 1969 Thabo Mbeki arrived in Moscow after he was finally given permission to undergo a year of military training at the Lenin International School.

He became a student at the Lenin Institute which was established exclusively for communists, the exception being non-communist members of liberation movements who could get ideological training at the Institute. Thabo Mbeki excelled at the Institute and regularly addressed the Institutes’ weekly assembly.

While in Moscow, Thabo Mbeki continued writing articles, documents and speeches for the ANC and its organs.

In June 1969 Thabo Mbeki was chosen to be secretary of a high-level SACP delegation to the International Conference of Communist and Workers Parties in Moscow.

In June 1970 Thabo Mbeki was secretly shuttled from his military camp north-west of Moscow to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) guest house in Volynskoye, where the South African Communist Party’s (SACP’s) Central Committee was holding its meeting. The significance of this was that up to that point the SACP leadership had been largely non-black.

Thabo Mbeki and several blacks were now included in the committee, including Chris Hani. Both Chris Hani and Thabo Mbeki celebrated their 28th birthdays at this meeting, making them the youngest members to ever serve on the committee

While in Moscow, Thabo Mbeki was trained in advanced guerrilla warfare at Skhodnya, and although he was more comfortable with a book rather than a gun, the training was considered a necessary requirement if he was to be accepted as a leader. His military training was cut short as he was sent back to London to prepare for a new post in Lusaka. Throughout his training, Thabo Mbeki kept in constant contact with Zanele Dlamini (later Mbeki).

In April 1971 together with Oliver Tambo, Thabo Mbeki left London for Lusaka to take up the position of assistant secretary of the ANC’s Revolutionary Council (RC). Thabo Mbeki was setting foot on African soil for the first time in nine years. The aim of the RC at this time was to bridge an ever-widening gap between the ANC in exile and the people back home. While in Lusaka Thabo Mbeki was housed in a secret location in Makeni, south-west of the city.

Thabo Mbeki later moved over to work in the ANC’s propaganda section but continued to attend RC meetings. Four months after he arrived in Lusaka, Thabo Mbeki travelled to Beichlingen to deliver a speech on behalf of the ANC’s Executive Committee at the YSS summer school. This marked a turning point in Thabo Mbeki’s life as it was the first time he spoke on behalf of the ANC as opposed to the ANC Youth League.

“Why should we, in the Freedom Charter, say ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and White’ when our country is under foreign invaders, who even call themselves Europeans? Why therefore should we not say that South Africa belongs to the Black people? Why should we not say, ‘Power to the Black people’? Comrades, we hope you will have something to say on these questions.” (A Dream Deferred).

In December 1972 Thabo Mbeki joined Oliver Tambo at Heathrow airport to meet Mangosuthu Buthelezi to discuss mass resistance to apartheid. Thabo Mbeki is credited with facilitating the establishment of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), it was his responsibility to nurture the relationship between Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the ANC.

In 1973 Thabo Mbeki was deployed to Botswana to facilitate the development of an internal underground.

On November 23, 1974 Thabo Mbeki married Zanele Dlamini. The wedding ceremony took place at Farnham Castle, the residence of Zanele’s sister Edith and her husband, Wilfred Grenville-Grey.

Adelaide Tambo and Mendi Msimang stood in loco-parentis for Thabo Mbeki while Essop Pahad was Thabo Mbeki’s best man. The wedding, according to ANC rules, had to be approved by the organization; a rule that applied to all permanently deployed ANC members.

In January 1975 just a few months after his marriage, Thabo Mbeki was sent to Swaziland to assess the possibility of setting up an ANC frontline base in the country. Ostensibly attending a UN conference, Thabo Mbeki was accompanied by Max Sisulu.

The two met with Max Sisulu’s sister, Lindiwe Sisulu, who was studying at the University at Swaziland. Lindiwe Sisulu set up a meeting for the two at the home of S’bu Ndebele, then a librarian at the university.

Thabo Mbeki and Max Sisulu held meetings in Swaziland for a week with South Africans studying there to assess the situation. They returned to Lusaka after a week, when their visas had expired.

Thabo Mbeki reported back to the ANC that the possibility of establishing an ANC base in Swaziland was promising, especially because of its location, as it was close to Johannesburg and Durban. As a result, Thabo Mbeki was sent back to Swaziland to recruit soldiers for the organization’s military wing. In Swaziland, Thabo Mbeki recruited hundreds of people into the ANC.

He also liaised with Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the latter’s newly formed IFP, and set up structures within South Africa. Thabo Mbeki’s aim was to establish contact with as many Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) members as he could and to draw them into the ANC. Ironically, while Thabo Mbeki was converting BC adherents into ANC members, he would himself absorb many aspects of BC ideology.

In March 1976 Thabo Mbeki, Albert Dhlomo and Jacob Zuma were arrested in Swaziland, but they managed to escape deportation to South Africa. Instead, a month after their arrest, they were escorted across the border to Mozambique. Thabo Mbeki went back to Lusaka for a few months and in January 1977 he was posted to Nigeria.

Thabo Mbeki was appointed as deputy to Duma Nokwe in the Department of Information and Propaganda (DIP) before he left Lusaka.

Thabo Mbeki’s mission in Nigeria was to establish diplomatic relations with Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime. A mission that proved to be very successful as Thabo Mbeki was to build a lasting relationship with the Nigerian authorities, eclipsing the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in Nigeria.

Zanele Mbeki, who was running the Africa offices of the International University Education Fund in Lusaka, spent much of 1977 with her husband in Nigeria.

In 1978 Thabo Mbeki became political secretary in the office of Oliver Tambo. He became a close confidant of Oliver Tambo, advising him on all matters and writing many of his speeches.

In 1980 Thabo Mbeki was sent to Salisbury immediately after Robert Mugabe took office.

On August 11, 1980 Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki met with Robert Mugabe and his advisor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in Salisbury. The meeting resulted in MK being allowed to move ammunition and cadres through Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe guaranteed that his government would assist ANC cooperatives in Zimbabwe.Thabo Mbeki, preferring to return to Lusaka, decided to hand over the reins in Zimbabwe to Chris Hani, who was to continue the relationship with Robert Mugabe.

In July 1981 Joe Gqabi, the ANC representative in Zimbabwe, was assassinated at his home.This brought the relationship between the ANC and the Zimbabwean government under strain.

During the 1980s, Thabo Mbeki became a leading figure in the SACP, rising to the party’s central committee by the mid-1980s. The SACP was a vital part of the ANC alliance.

In February 1982, Thabo Mbeki’s brother Jama Mbeki disappeared. He was later presumed dead.

Thabo MbekiIn 1985 P.W. Botha declared a State of Emergency and gave the army and police special powers. That same year Thabo Mbeki became the ANC’s director of the Department of Information and Publicity and coordinated diplomatic campaigns to involve more white South Africans in anti-apartheid activities.

In 1986 the South African Army sent a captain in the South African Defence Force (SADF) to kill Thabo Mbeki. The plan was to put a bomb in his house in Lusaka, but the assassin was arrested by the Zambian police before he could go through with the plan.

In 1989 Thabo Mbeki rose in the ranks to head the ANC’s Department of International Affairs and was involved in the ANC’s negotiations with the apartheid South African government.

Thabo Mbeki played a major role in turning the international media against apartheid. Raising the diplomatic profile of the ANC, he acted as a point of contact for foreign governments and international organizations and he was very successful in this position.

Thabo Mbeki also played the role of ambassador to the steady flow of delegates from the elite sectors of white South Africa. These included academics, clerics, business people and representatives of liberal white groups who travelled to Lusaka to assess the ANC’s views on a democratic, free South Africa.

Thabo Mbeki was seen as pragmatic, eloquent, rational and urbane. He was known for his diplomatic style and sophistication, which went against the view, held by many right-wing organizations that the ANC was a terrorist organisation.

Thabo Mbeki + Jacob ZumaIn the early 80s, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and Aziz Pahad were appointed by Tambo to conduct private talks with representatives of the National Party government. Twelve meetings between the parties took place between November 1987 and May 1990, most of them held at a country house near Bath in Somerset, England. By September 1989 the team secretly met with Maritz Spaarwater and Mike Louw in a hotel in Switzerland. Known as “Operation Flair”, P.W. Botha was kept informed of all the meetings. At the same time, Nelson Mandela and Kobie Coetzee (then Minister of Justice) were also holding secret talks.

In 1989 P.W. Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by F.W. de Klerk. At the end of 1989 F.W. de Klerk set free a few of the ANC’s top leadership, among them Govan Mbeki.

On February 2, 1990 F.W. de Klerk that the ANC, SACP, PAC and other liberation movements were to be unbanned.


Return to South Africa

In 1990 with the ban lifted on the ANC, Thabo Mbeki played a crucial role in transforming the ANC into a legal political organisation.

Zuma - Mbeki - HaniIn 1991 the ANC was able to hold its first legal conference in South Africa after 30 years of being banned. The party now had the task of finding a middle ground for discussion between all the various factions: the returning exiles, the long-term prisoners and those who had stayed behind to lead the struggle.

Thabo Mbeki was chosen as national chair while Cyril Ramaphosa was elected secretary general and the ANC’s chief negotiator at the multiparty talks. Thabo Mbeki had up to this point been handling much of the diplomatic talks with the apartheid regime, and given his diplomatic experience and the level of bargaining that was expected, it came as a surprise that he was sidelined in favour of Cyril Ramaphosa.

Thabo Mbeki was now in a contest to become Nelson Mandela‘s deputy. His rivals were Cyril Ramaphosa and Chris Hani, secretary general of the SACP. However, Thabo Mbeki had a strong support base among the ANC Youth League and the ANC’s Womens’ League.

In 1993 Chris Hani was assassinated, this left Thabo Mbeki and Cyril Ramaphosa to contest the position of Deputy President.

After the April 27, 1994 all inclusive democratic election, Thabo Mbeki became a deputy president of South Africa with F.W. de Klerk , and In June 1996 he sole deputy-president.

Mbeki + Mandela + de KlerkIn December 1997 Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as ANC president.

In June 1999 he succeeded Nelson Mandela as president of the Republic of South Africa and was inaugurated on June 16.

In December 2002 Thabo Mbeki was re-elected as ANC president for the second term and he was re-elected for a second term as South African president in the 2004 General Election.

Thabo Mbeki ran for the third term as ANC president even though the constitution of South Africa would not have allowed him to run for the South African presidency for the third time.

In December 2007 at the ANC’s 52nd Elective Conference in Polokwane Thabo Mbeki was defeated by challenger Jacob Zuma.

On September 21, 2008 at 19:30 South African time, Thabo Mbeki formally announced  his resignation as President of South Africa, this was after the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) ruled that he was no longer fit to lead South Africa and it no longer to supported him in parliament.


Politics and Economics

Thabo Mbeki has often been described as remote and academic although in his second campaign for Presidency in 2004, many observers described him as finally relaxing into a more traditional campaign mode.

Thabo Mbeki used his weekly column in the ANC newsletter ANC Today, to produce discussions on a variety of topics.

He sometimes used his column to deliver pointed invectives against political opponents, and at other times used it as a kind of professor of political theory, educating ANC cadres on the intellectual justifications for ANC policy.

Although these columns were remarkable for their dense prose, they often were used to influence news. Although Thabo Mbeki did not generally make a point of befriending or courting reporters, his columns and news events often yielded good results for his administration by ensuring that his message is a primary driving force of news coverage.

Thabo Mbeki stated his view that the bulk of South African media sources did not speak for or to the South African majority, and stated his intent to use ANC Today to speak directly to his constituents rather than through the media.

Thabo Mbeki has been a powerful figure in African politics, positioning South Africa as a regional power broker and promoting the idea that African political conflicts should be solved by Africans. He headed the formation of both the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union (AU) and has played influential roles in brokering peace deals in Rwanda, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Thabo Mbeki has also tried to popularize the concept of an African Renaissance. He sees African dependence on aid and foreign intervention as a major barrier, and sees structures like NEPAD and the AU as part of a process in which Africa solves its own problems without relying on outside assistance.

The CIA World Factbook says: “South African economic policy is fiscally conservative, but pragmatic, focusing on targeting inflation and liberalizing trade as means to increase job growth and household income.”

Thabo Mbeki, as an ANC insider and while president, was a major force behind the continued neoliberal structure of the South African economy. He drew criticism from the left for his perceived abandonment of state-interventionist social democratic economic policies, such as nationalization, land reform, and democratic capital controls, prescribed by the Freedom Charter, the ANC’s seminal document.

Thabo Mbeki has used his position on the world stage to call for an end to global apartheid, a term he uses to describe the disparity between a small minority of rich nations and a great number of impoverished states in the world, arguing that a “global human society based on poverty for many and prosperity for a few, characterized by islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty, is unsustainable”.



Thabo Mbeki’s presidential years were marred with  controversy, particularly his position on the issue of HIV/AIDS which earned him the tag of AIDS denialist as the as that of Zimbabwe, his relationship with Jacob Zuma, the ANC, the quest for third term of ANC presidency and his relationship with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

  • Robert Mugabe and Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe had faced hyperinflation since 2000 and it had become a matter of increasing concern to Britain and other donors and interested parties to that country.

High-ranking diplomatic visits to South Africa repeatedly attempted to persuade Thabo Mbeki to take a harder line with Robert Mugabe over violent state-sponsored attacks on political opponents and opposition movements, expropriation of white-owned farms by ZANU-PF allied “war veterans”, sanctioning against the press, and infringements on the independence of the judiciary.

thabo mbeki- robert mugabeRather than publicly criticizing Robert Mugabe’s government, Thabo Mbeki chose “quiet diplomacy” over “megaphone diplomacy”, his term for the West’s increasingly forthright condemnation of Robert Mugabe’s rule.

Mbeki was quoted claiming “there is no crisis” in Zimbabwe, despite increased evidence of political violence and murders, hyperinflation, and the influx of political refugees into South Africa.

In the face of laws restricting public assembly and freedom of the media, restricting campaigning by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for the 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections, President Thabo Mbeki was quoted as saying: I have no reason to think that anything will happen … that anybody in Zimbabwe will act in a way that will militate against the elections being free and fair. […] As far as I know, things like an independent electoral commission, access to the public media, the absence of violence and intimidation … those matters have been addressed.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Minerals and Energy Minister at the time, led the largest foreign observer mission, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Observer Mission, to oversee the Zimbabwe elections. Contrary to other international missions and parts of the SA Parliamentary Mission, the mission congratulated the people of Zimbabwe for holding a peaceful, credible and well-mannered election which reflects the will of the people.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) delegation (part SA Parliamentary Observer Mission) clashed with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and eventually submitted a separate report contradicting her findings. The elections were widely denounced and many accused Zanu-PF of massive and often violent intimidation, using food to buy votes, and large discrepancies in the tallying of votes.

Thabo Mbeki attempted to restore dialogue between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the opposition MDC in the face of denials from both parties. A fact-finding mission in 2004 by Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) to Zimbabwe led to their widely publicized deportation back to South Africa which reopened the debate, even within the ANC, as to whether Thabo Mbeki’s policy of “quiet diplomacy” was constructive.

On February 5, 2006 in an interview with South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television Thabo Mbeki said that Zimbabwe had missed a chance to resolve its political crisis in 2004 when secret talks to agree on a new constitution ended in failure. He claimed that he saw a copy of a new constitution signed by all parties.

The job of promoting dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition was likely made more difficult by divisions within the MDC, splits to which the president alluded when he stated that the MDC were “sorting themselves out.” In turn, the MDC unanimously rejected this assertion (MDC-Mutambara Faction’s) secretary general Welshman Ncube said “We never gave Mbeki a draft constitution unless, it was Zanu-PF which did that. Thabo Mbeki has to tell the world what he was really talking about.”

In May 2007 it was reported that Thabo Mbeki had been partisan and taken sides with Zanu-PF in his role as mediator. He had given pre-conditions to the opposition MDC before the dialogue could resume while giving no conditions to the Zanu-PF government. He required that the MDC accept and recognize Robert Mugabe was the president of Zimbabwe, and the MDC accept the 2002 presidential election results despite widespread belief of being unfree, unfair, and fraudulent.

On January 10, 2006 businessman Warren Clewlow said that government should stop its unsuccessful behind-the-scenes attempts to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis and start vociferously condemning what was happening in that country. Warren Clewlow’s sentiments reflected the South African private sector’s increasing impatience with Thabo Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” and were echoed by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA).

Thabo Mbeki was frequently criticised for having failed to exert pressure on President Robert Mugabe to relinquish power, but chaired meetings in which the Zimbabwean leader’s potential departure from power was being negotiated.

In May 2007 Thabo Mbeki rejected calls for tough action against Zimbabwe ahead of a visit by the then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

At the end of the fourth day of negotiations Thabo Mbeki announced in Harare that Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF, professor Arthur Mutambara of MDC-M and Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC-T finally signed the power-sharing agreement – “memorandum of understanding.”

On September 15, 2008 the leaders of the 14-member SADC witnessed the signing of the power-sharing agreement, brokered by Thabo Mbeki. With symbolic handshake and warm smiles at the Rainbow Towers hotel, in Harare, Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai signed the deal to end violent political crisis provides.

  • AIDS

In 1995 the International Conference for People Living with HIV and AIDS was held in South Africa, the first time that the annual conference had been held in Africa. At the time Thabo Mbeki was Deputy President and in his official capacity acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic. The South African Ministry of Health announced that some 850,000 people, 2.1% of the total South African population, were believed to be HIV-positive.

In 2000 the Department of Health outlined a five-year plan to combat AIDS, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. A National AIDS Council was established to oversee the implementation of the plan.

When Thabo Mbeki became President of South Africa he changed tack and represented the views of a small group of pseudo-scientists who claimed that AIDS was not caused by HIV.

On July 9, 2000 at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, President Thabo Mbeki made a speech that attracted much criticism in that he avoided references to HIV and instead focused mainly on poverty as a powerful co-factor in AIDS diagnosis.

His administration was repeatedly accused of failing to respond adequately to the AIDS epidemic, and including failing to authorize and implement an overall national treatment program for AIDS that included anti-retroviral medicines, and in particular an anti-retroviral programme to prevent HIV transmission from pregnant mothers to babies while in the womb.

Thabo Mbeki’s government did, however, introduce a law allowing cheaper locally produced generic medicines, and in April 2001 succeeded in defending a legal action brought by transnational pharmaceutical companies to set aside the law.

AIDS activists, particularly the Treatment Action Campaign and its allies, thought that the law was intended to support a cheap anti-retroviral drugs programme and applauded Thabo Mbeki’s government.

The Treatment Action Campaign and its allies were eventually forced to resort to the South African Courts which in 2002 ordered the government to make the drug nevirapine available to pregnant women to help prevent mother to child transmission of HIV.

Despite international drug companies offering free or cheap anti-retroviral drugs, until 2003, South Africans with HIV who used the public sector health system could only get treatment for opportunistic infections they suffered because of their weakened immune systems, but could not get anti-retrovirals designed to specifically target HIV.

In November 2003 the South African government finally approved a plan to make anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment publicly available.

In November 2008 The New York Times reported that due to Thabo Mbeki’s rejection of scientific consensus on AIDS and his embrace of AIDS denialism, an estimated 365,000 people had perished in South Africa. While a study in African Affairs in 2008 found that Mbeki’s government could have prevented the deaths of 343,000 South Africans during his tenure, had it followed the more sensible public health policies then applied in the Western Cape province.

The South African Constitution allows the Cabinet to override the President. The secret ballot appears to have gone against the president when Cabinet policy declared that HIV is the cause of AIDS.

In August 2003 Cabinet promised to formulate a national treatment plan that would include ARVs. At the time the Health Ministry was still headed by Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who had served as health minister since June 1999, and was promoting nutritional approaches to AIDS while highlighting the toxicities of anti-retroviral drugs.

This led critics to question whether the same leadership that opposed ARV treatment would effectively carry out the treatment plan. Implementation was slow requiring a court judgement to eventually force government to distribute ARV’s. Delivery was further improved when Thabo Mbeki was ousted, Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang re-deployed as the Minister of the Presidency, and Barbara Hogan deployed to Minister of Health.

While deputy president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki customarily wore a red ribbon while specifically promoting AIDS prevention measures. He presided over a controversial and brief embrace of a South African experimental drug called Virodene which later proved to be ineffective, the episode appeared to have increased his skepticism about the scientific consensus that quickly condemned the drug.

After becoming President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki appears to have articulated more clearly his understanding that poverty is a significant factor in the prevalence of AIDS and other health problems. He urged political attention be directed to addressing poverty generally rather than only against AIDS specifically.

The history of malicious and manipulative health policies of the colonial and apartheid governments in Africa, including biological warfare programs set up by the apartheid state, also help to fuel views that the scientific discourse of AIDS might be a tool for European and American political, cultural or economic agendas.

In a 2007 published biography “Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred”, author Mark Gevisser describes how Thabo Mbeki, knowing that he was writing the biography, contacted him earlier in 2007. This was to ask whether the author had seen a 100-page paper secretly authored by Thabo Mbeki and distributed anonymously among the ANC leadership six years ago. This paper compared orthodox AIDS scientists to latter-day Nazi concentration camp doctors and portrayed black people who accepted orthodox AIDS science as “self-repressed” victims of a slave mentality. It described the “HIV/AIDS thesis” as entrenched in “centuries-old white racist beliefs and concepts about Africans”.

In the published biography Mark Gevisser describes Thabo Mbeki’s view of the disease as apparently shaped by an obsession with race, the legacy of colonialism and “sexual shame”.

Since the release of the biography, “Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred”, Thabo Mbeki’s defenders have tried hard to clarify his position as being an AIDS “dissident” as opposed to an AIDS “denier”.

That is, he accepts that HIV causes AIDS but is a dissident in that he is at odds with prevailing AIDS-focused public health policies, stating that it is only one of many immune deficiency diseases, many of which are associated with poverty, and that political attention and resources should be directed to poverty and immune deficiency diseases generally rather than AIDS specifically.

  •  Electricity (Load Shedding)

In January 2008 the South African government announced that it would introduce electricity rationing called Load Shedding.

On January 25, 2008 the South Africa’s deepening power crisis was such that the world’s largest gold and platinum mining companies were forced to shut down operations.

Eskom and the government both apologised for the blackouts and in his next-to-last State of the Nation address Thabo Mbeki devoted nearly three pages to the electricity crisis, repeating the apologies of Eskom and those of the South African government.

He blamed the power shortages on increased demand caused by years of economic growth and the provision of electricity to black townships that were not connected in the apartheid era. But Mbeki also admitted the government had failed to heed warnings from Eskom that without new power stations Eskom might not be able to meet demand by 2007.

Thabo Mbeki failed to respond to allegations that the government’s black empowerment strategy had been a root cause of the problem in that small and medium sized black entrepreneurs, in preference to large corporations, had been awarded coal supply tenders.

The power problems were further exacerbated by Thabo Mbeki’s government policy of attracting energy-intensive industry through the carrot of cheap electricity.

  • Crime

In 2004 President Thabo Mbeki made an attack on commentators who argued that violent crime was out of control in South Africa, calling them white racists who want the country to fail. He said crime was falling but some journalists distorted reality by depicting black people as “barbaric savages” who liked to rape and kill.

Annual statistics published in September 2004 showed that most categories of crime were down, but some had challenged the figures’ credibility and said that South Africa remained extremely dangerous, especially for women.

In a column for the ANC website Thabo Mbeki rebuked the doubters.

Thabo Mbeki did not name journalist Charlene Smith who had championed victims of sexual violence since writing about her own rape, but quoted a recent article in which she said South Africa had the highest rate of rape and referred to her as an “internationally recognized expert on sexual violence”.

He said “She was saying our cultures, traditions and religions as Africans inherently make every African man a potential rapist … [a] view which defines the African people as barbaric savages.”

In January 2007 the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) draft report on South Africa was released. This noted that South Africa had the world’s second-highest murder rate, with about 50 people a day being killed, and that although serious crime was reported as falling, security analysts said that the use of violence in robberies, and rape, were more common. Thabo Mbeki in response said in an interview that fears of crime were exaggerated

In December 2007 the final APRM report on South Africa, again suggested that there was an unacceptably high level of violent crime in the country, Thabo Mbeki dismissed the report as an acceptance by the panel of what he called “a populist view”.

He challenged some of the statistics on crime, which he noted may have resulted from a weak information base, leading to wrong conclusions.


  • Xenophobia

In May 2008 a series of riots took place in a number of townships, mainly in Gauteng Province, which left 42 dead, several hundred injured and several thousand displaced.

The root cause of the riot was xenophobic attacks on foreigners, mainly Zimbabweans who had fled their country following the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. The migrants were blamed for high levels of unemployment, housing shortages and crime.

Thabo Mbeki was criticised for ignoring the scale of the problem and failing to deal with the causes of it. The Zimbabwe Exiles Group accused him of being “more concerned with appeasing Mr. Mugabe than recognizing the scale of the problem caused by the flood of Zimbabweans into South Africa.”

In response to the violence Thabo Mbeki announced he would set up a panel of experts to investigate the riots and authorized military force against rioters.

This was the first time that such an authoritative of military force was used by the government since the end of apartheid.


  • Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

In 2004 Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu criticised PThabo Mbeki for surrounding himself with “yes-men”, not doing enough to improve the position of the poor and for promoting economic policies that only benefited a small black elite and further accused Thabo Mbeki and the ANC of suppressing public debate.

Thabo Mbeki responded that Desmond Tutu had never been an ANC member and defended the debates that took place within ANC branches and other public forums.

He also asserted his belief in the value of democratic discussion by quoting the Chinese slogan “let a hundred flowers bloom”, referring to the brief Hundred Flowers Campaign within the Chinese Communist Party in 1956–57.

The ANC Today newsletter featured several analyses of the debate, written by Thabo Mbeki and the ANC.

The latter suggested that Desmond Tutu was an “icon” of “white elites”, thereby suggesting that his political importance was overblown by the media and while the article took pains to say that Desmond Tutu had not sought this status, it was described in the press as a particularly pointed and personal critique of Desmond Tutu.

Desmond Tutu responded that he would pray for Thabo Mbeki as he had prayed for the officials of the apartheid government


  • Jacob Zuma

In 2005 at the height of Jacob Zuma‘s legal turmoil Thabo Mbeki removed Jacob Zuma from his post as Deputy President of South Africa and replaced him with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Although Jacob Zuma was no longer Deputy President of South Africa, he remained Deputy President of the ANC.

In October 2005 a group of supporters of Jacob Zuma burned T-shirts bearing Thabo Mbeki’s picture at a protest.

In February 2006 Thabo Mbeki told the SABC that he and the ANC had no intention to change the Constitution of the country to permit him a third term in office. He stated, “By the end of 2009, I will have been in a senior position in government for 15 years. I think that’s too long.”

Thabo-Mbeki+Jacob-Zuma+Polokwane-Conference+2007In 2007 Thabo Mbeki entered the race to be President of the ANC for the third consecutive term as there is no set limit for position of the ANC President, Jacob Zuma was the challenger going to the 52nd Elective Conference of the ANC.

On December 18, 2007 at the 52nd Elective Conference of the ANC held in Polokwane, Thabo Mbeki lost to challenger Jacob Zuma who went on to be the ANC’s presidential candidate in the 2009 General Election.

On September 12, 2008 Judge Chris Nicholson of the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that Jacob Zuma‘s corruption charges were unlawful on procedural grounds, adding there was reason to believe the charges against Jacob Zuma had been politically motivated, thereby clearing the way for Jacob Zuma to run for president.

Thabo Mbeki filed affidavit and applied to the Constitutional Court to appeal this ruling: “It was improper for the court to make such far-reaching ‘vexatious, scandalous and prejudicial’ findings concerning me, to be judged and condemned on the basis of the findings in the Zuma matter. The interests of justice, in my respectful submission would demand that the matter be rectified. These adverse findings have led to my being recalled by my political party, the ANC—a request I have acceded to as a committed and loyal member of the ANC for the past 52 years. I fear that if not rectified, I might suffer further prejudice.”

On September 23  National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman, Tlali Tlali, stated by phone from Pretoria “We have received the papers. It’s under consideration.”

On January 12, 2009 the judgement for the appeal was handed down  at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.

Deputy Judge President Louis Harms had to rule on two aspects of the appeal;

(1st) whether or not Zuma had the right to be invited to make representations to the NPA before they decided to reinstate charges of bribery and corruption against him.

Deputy Judge President Louis Harms found that Judge Chris Nicholson’s interpretation of section 179 of the South African Constitution was incorrect in that the National Prosecuting Authority did not have such an obligation and thus was free to have charged Jacob Zuma as it did.

(2nd) whether Judge Nicholson was correct in implying political meddling by the then President Thabo Mbeki with regards to the NPA’s decision to charge Zuma.

Deputy Judge President Louis Harms found that the lower court “overstepped the limits of its authority”.


Resignation as President of South Africa

The ANC NEC moved that it had lost confidence in it’s presidential deployee, Thabo Mbeki, and was no longer fit to hold the office of the President of South Africa and it no longer to supported him in parliament – as a result he was recalled.

Thabo Mbeki did not contest the decision of the ANC NEC and on September 21, 2008 at 19:30 South African time (17:30 UTC) he officially resigned as President of South Africa.

Thabo Mbeki’s resignation came a few days after the dismissal of a trial against ANC President Jacob Zuma on charges of corruption due to procedural errors. Allusions were made in the ruling to possible political interference by Thabo Mbeki and others in his prosecution.

On September 22, 2008 Parliament convened and accepted his resignation with effect from September 25, however, because a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) opposition party declared his objection to the resignation, a debate was set to take place the following day.

In cases of such a void in the presidency, the constitution regulates the replacement to serve as the interim president: either the deputy president, the speaker of parliament or any MP, as chosen by parliament, can take the role of president of the country until the next election. ANC president Jacob Zuma, who was elected president after the next general election, was not eligible as he was none of these at the time.

Then deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was unlikely to be chosen either, due to her alleged close ties to Thabo Mbeki and because her husband, Bulelani Ngcuka was involved in the decision to charge Jacob Zuma with corruption.

Baleka Mbete, Speaker of Parliament at the time, was cited as the likely caretaker president, however, speaking on behalf of the ANC, Jacob Zuma strongly hinted at the then ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who was an MP, becoming Thabo Mbeki’s replacement for the remainder of his second term of parliament, which ended in early 2009.

Jacob Zuma could put pressure on the government and his party to choose Kgalema Motlanthe, the replacement president had to be decided by parliament.

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad and Minister of Science and Technology Mosibudi Mangena all announced their intentions of resigning.

Nathi Mthethwa, Chief Whip of the ANC at the time, stated that Thabo Mbeki’s resignation would take effect on September 25, 2008. ANC President Jacob Zuma said that his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, would become acting president until 2009 general elections: “I am convinced – if given that responsibility – he would be equal to the task.”

The ANC confirmed that “Kgalema Motlanthe is to become caretaker president until 2009 elections, with Baleka Mbete being appointed deputy president”.



In 1994 Thabo Mbeki received an honorary doctorate in business administration from the Arthur D Little Institute, Boston.

In 1995 he received honorary doctorate from the University of South Africa and an honorary doctorate of laws from Sussex University.

In 1997 Thabo Mbeki was awarded the Good Governance Award by the US-based Corporate Council on Africa.

In 1999 Thabo Mbeki was awarded an honorary doctorate from Rand Afrikaans University.

In 2000 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from Glasgow Caledonian University. That year he also received the Newsmaker of the year award from Pretoria News Press Association and again in 2008 this time from media research company Monitoring South Africa. In honour of his commitment to democracy in the new South Africa, Thabo Mbeki was awarded the Oliver Tambo/Johnny Makatini Freedom Award.

In 2001 during Thabo Mbeki’s official visit to Britain he was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB).

In 2003 Thabo Mbeki was awarded the Peace and Reconciliation Award at the Gandhi Awards for Reconciliation in Durban.

In 2004 Thabo Mbeki was awarded an honorary doctorate in commercial sciences by the University of Stellenbosch. He was awarded the Good Brother Award by Washington, D.C.’s National Congress of Black Women for his commitment to gender equality and the emancipation of women in South Africa

In 2005 the Mayor of Athens, Dora Bakoyannis, awarded Thabo Mbeki with the City of Athens Medal of Honour. During Thabo Mbeki’s official visit to Sudan that same year, he was awarded Sudan’s Insignia of Honour in recognition of his role in resolving conflicts and working for development in the Continent. He was also awarded the Champion of the Earth Award by the United Nations. During the European-wide Action Week Against Racism, Thabo Mbeki was awarded the Rotterdamse Jongeren Raad (RJR) Antidiscrimination Award by the Netherlands.

In 2006 he was awarded the Presidential Award for his outstanding service to economic growth and investor confidence in South Africa and Africa and for his role in the international arena by the South African Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

In 2007 Thabo Mbeki was made a Knight of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town by the current grand prior, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He was also awarded the Confederation of African Football’s Order of Merit for his contribution to football on the continent.



Thabo Mbeki is one of four children of Epainette Mbeki (February 16, 1916 – June 7, 2014) and Govan Mbeki (July 9, 1910 – August 30, 2001).

Thabo Mbeki and Zanele MbekiIn 1974 Thabo Mbeki married his wife Zanele Dlamini at Farnham Castle in the United Kingdom.

Famed Political and Economic commentator Moeletsi Mbeki is his younger brother.

While in exile, his brother Jama Mbeki, a supporter of the rival Pan Africanist Congress, was killed by agents of the Lesotho government in 1982 while attempting to assist the Lesotho Liberation Army.

His son Kwanda, the product of a liaison in Mbeki’s teenage years, was killed while trying to leave South Africa to join his father.

When Mbeki finally was able to return home to South Africa and was reunited with his own father, the elder Mbeki told a reporter, “You must remember that Thabo Mbeki is no longer my son. He is my comrade!” A news article pointed out that this was an expression of pride, explaining, “For Govan Mbeki, a son was a mere biological appendage; to be called a comrade, on the other hand, was the highest honour.”