Mbeki, Thabo


Mbeki, Thabo
born June 18, 1942, Idutywa, Transkei

President of South Africa (from 1999).

The son of an anti-apartheid activist, he studied economics at Sussex University in Britain, then received military training in the Soviet Union. He was appointed deputy president by Nelson Mandela following South Africa's first elections (1994) based on universal suffrage and soon took control of the government's day-to-day workings. Less charismatic than Mandela, Mbeki has been criticized for his views on the biology of AIDS. He has been particularly involved in South Africa's post-apartheid economic growth strategy.

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▪ 1995

      On May 10, 1994, Thabo Mbeki was sworn in as first deputy president in the first democratically elected government of South Africa. Regarded as a person of original thought and considerable diplomatic and political skills, Mbeki combined these attributes with urbanity, charm, and calmness as well as toughness.

      Mbeki was born in Idutywa, Transkei, on June 18, 1942. His father, a longtime leader in the Eastern Cape African National Congress (ANC), was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela in 1964, released in November 1987, and named deputy president of the Senate in 1994.

      Mbeki attended schools in Transkei, including the well-known Lovedale secondary school in Alice. He joined the ANC Youth League in 1956, and in 1959 he participated in a student strike that caused the school to be closed. Already he had impressed observers with his leadership qualities; "he was a very good judge of people" recalled one.

      Continuing studies at home, he was also active in the ANC after it was banned in South Africa in 1960. He served (1961) as secretary of the African Students Association, left South Africa illegally in 1962, and enrolled at the University of Sussex, Brighton, England, from which he graduated with an M.A. in economics in 1966. He worked for the ANC in London (1967-70) and then underwent military training in the Soviet Union.

      Though criticized in the late 1960s by ANC cadres in Africa for spending time in Europe, Mbeki moved rapidly up in the ANC hierarchy. From 1971 he served in Lusaka, Zambia, as assistant secretary to its Revolutionary Council, becoming the youngest member of the national executive (1975) and political secretary to Pres. Oliver Tambo (1978).

      Though he once wrote that "modern capitalism has outlived its usefulness," Mbeki became identified with a more moderate position. When he became chairperson of the ANC in 1993, a South African newspaper complimented him as "the suave jet-setting intellectual."

      During the 1970s Mbeki undertook missions for the ANC in Botswana, Swaziland, and Nigeria in order to work with black youth who had left South Africa. In the 1980s he played a key role in the discussions with South African businessmen in Lusaka in September 1985 and with other leading white South Africans in Dakar, Senegal, in July 1987, which paved the way toward South African Pres. F.W. de Klerk's initiation of negotiations with the ANC in 1990.

      From 1990 Mbeki participated in those negotiations, which led to the adoption of a new interim constitution. In 1993 he was elected to succeed the ailing Tambo as ANC chairperson.

      (MARTIN LEGASSICK)

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▪ president of South Africa
born June 18, 1942, Idutywa, Transkei [now South Africa]
 
 politician who served as the president of South Africa (1999–2008).

      Mbeki was early exposed to politics by his father, a longtime leader in the Eastern Cape African National Congress (ANC), an organization dedicated to the elimination of apartheid in South Africa, who was later imprisoned (1964–87) with Nelson Mandela (Mandela, Nelson). The younger Mbeki attended schools in Transkei, including the well-known Lovedale secondary school in Alice, and in 1956 joined the ANC Youth League. Three years later he led a student strike at Lovedale that resulted in his expulsion. Mbeki continued his studies at home and remained active in the ANC after it was banned in South Africa in 1960. In 1962 he left South Africa illegally and enrolled at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, from which he graduated with an M.A. in economics in 1966.

      In the late 1960s Mbeki began moving rapidly up the ANC hierarchy. He worked for the ANC in London (1967–70) and underwent military training in the Soviet Union (1971). In 1971 he served in Lusaka, Zambia, as assistant secretary to its Revolutionary Council, becoming the youngest member of the national executive (1975) and political secretary to President Oliver Tambo (Tambo, Oliver) (1978). During the 1970s Mbeki undertook missions for the ANC in Botswana, Swaziland, and Nigeria in order to work with black youth who had left South Africa. He later played a key role in the discussions that led to negotiations between South African President F.W. de Klerk (de Klerk, F.W.) and the ANC in 1990. These talks, in which Mbeki was also involved, led to the adoption of a new interim constitution that marked the end of apartheid. In 1990 the ban against the ANC was lifted, and Mbeki returned to South Africa. Three years later he was elected to succeed the ailing Tambo as ANC chairman.

      In 1994 Mbeki was appointed South Africa's deputy president by President Mandela and played a major role in the day-to-day operations of the country's first multiracial government. Mandela retired from politics in 1999, and, after the ANC's victory in nationwide elections in June, Mbeki, who had become head of the ANC in 1997, was named president.

      Mbeki's administration focused on the continuing transition from an apartheid state, halting the soaring crime rate, and combating the spread of AIDS in Africa (though he was subject to criticism for questioning whether HIV caused AIDS). He also led efforts to increase foreign investment in Africa and to encourage debt relief for African countries. Mbeki secured a second term as president of the ANC in 2002. In South Africa's 2004 elections the ANC won nearly 70 percent of the vote, and Mbeki was elected to a second term as president of the country. In 2007 he lost his bid for a third term as head of the ANC to Jacob Zuma (Zuma, Jacob) in what was one of the most contentious leadership battles in the party's history. Amid charges of corruption, Zuma had been dismissed by Mbeki from his position as deputy president of the country in 2005. Despite repeated allegations of wrongdoing—which his supporters claimed were politically motivated—Zuma remained a popular figure within the ANC and was selected over Mbeki to be party president.

      Following an allegation by a High Court judge that there had been political interference in Zuma's prosecution on corruption charges, on September 20, 2008, Mbeki was asked by the ANC to resign from the South African presidency, which he agreed to do once the relevant constitutional requirements had been fulfilled. On September 25 he was succeeded by Kgalema Motlanthe (Motlanthe, Kgalema), who was selected by the National Assembly to serve as interim president until elections could be held in 2009.

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Universalium. 2010.

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