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Thu, 06.18.1942

Thabo Mbeki, South African leader

Thabo Mbeki

On this date in 1942, Thabo M. Mbeki was born. He is an African politician and activist.

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 anti-apartheid movement has been built up over a lifetime of involvement. He was born in Idutywa, Transkei, where both his parents were teachers and activists. His father, Govan, was a leading figure in ANC (African National Congress) activities in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. A young Mbeki joined the ANC Youth League at 14 and quickly became active in student politics.

When his schooling at Lovedale Academy was interrupted by a strike in 1959, he completed his studies at home. Then he moved to Johannesburg, coming under the guidance of Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe. It was during this time that 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 attacks from the state. His father was arrested at Rivonia and sentenced to life imprisonment. Mbeki 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.

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 and became assistant secretary of the Revolutionary Council. In 1973-74, he was in Botswana holding discussions with the Botswana government about opening an ANC office there. In 1975, he was acting ANC representative in Swaziland. Appointed to the National Executive Committee (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 1970s was in building the ANC in Swaziland and underground structures inside the country.

During the 1980s, 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. In 1989, Mbeki headed the ANC Department of International Affairs, and was a key figure in the ANC's negotiations with the former government. Nelson Mandela handpicked Mbeki after the April 1994 general election to be the first deputy president of the new Government of National Unity. After the National Party withdrew from the Government of National Unity in June 1996, Thabo Mbeki became the sole deputy president.

At the African National Congress 50th National Conference in December 1997, Thabo Mbeki became the current president of the African National Congress.

Reference:
The World Book Encyclopedia.
Copyright 1996, World Book, Inc.
ISBN 0-7166-0096-X

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