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Thursday, January 7, 1999 Published at 22:00 GMT

World: Africa

Profile: Thabo Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki with outgoing President Nelson Mandela

By South Africa Correspondent Greg Barrow

Thabo Mbeki is the man the African National Congress has chosen to replace President Nelson Mandela after the presidential and parliamentary elections in South Africa later this year.

[ image:  ]
Like an anointed prince, Mbeki has waited quietly in the corridors of power, allowing Mandela to enjoy the twilight of his political career.

It is only in the last year that the international community has become increasingly aware of Thabo Mbeki, as the 80-year-old President Mandela has slowly started cutting back his official engagements, and handing over control of the government's day-to-day business to his successor.

At 56, Mbeki is still a relatively young man. His appointment as president-elect ruffled some feathers among African National Congress veterans in the cabinet who felt that their role in the struggle against apartheid had not been recognised.

Exile in Britain and Moscow

Many of these older politicians are expected to step down after this year's elections. Mbeki spent most of his early years in exile, studying in Britain and going to Moscow to train as a guerrilla fighter, before devoting his efforts to lobbying against apartheid across the world.

Political observers in South Africa say he is keen to group fellow former exiles around him in his future cabinet. This will be one of the identifiable breaks from President Mandela's government which was characterised by men who had spent time in jail during the apartheid era.

There are also likely to be fewer white and Asian politicians in Mbeki's cabinet. He is seen as much more of an Africanist than Mandela, and there is little doubt that he will champion the cause of black South Africans.

Mbeki's long years in exile from South Africa have left their stamp on his political profile. He is regarded as an urbane diplomat who enjoys the company of foreign politicians and heads of state and lacks the warm friendly touch of Mandela.

[ image: Mbeki was a member of the South African Communist Party]
Mbeki was a member of the South African Communist Party
He is most at home in his own company, quietly puffing on a pipe and mulling over favoured topics such as the prospects for an "African Renaissance".

Colleagues describe Mbeki as an "ideas man" and a consummate politician. Where Mandela devoted much of his energy towards achieving national reconciliation in a racially divided country, Mbeki is expected to concentrate more on raising living standards for the majority black population.

A former member of the South African Communist Party, he is well aware of the social need of the black majority. But within government he has chosen to champion a policy of free-market economics aimed at attracting foreign investment, at a cost to left-wing demands for pay rises in the public sector.

It is a strategy that has led Mbeki into awkward confrontation with his former colleagues in the Communist Party and trade unions.

Dictatorial tendencies

Opposition parties fear that if the African National Congress gains a large majority in this year's elections there will be a potential for the party to take on dictatorial tendencies with Thabo Mbeki the man most likely to benefit from an increase in political power.

Such fears increased when Mbeki last year demonstrated his impatience with criticism of the ANC, and attacked the highly-respected Truth and Reconciliation Commission for publishing findings alleging that ANC members had carried out widespread torture and killed opponents during the apartheid era.

It was an uncharacteristic outburst which did little to assure those who have doubts about his suitability for leadership.

A key to Mbeki's real character and talent as a politician can be found in a newly-published book of his speeches which are often well-written but unimaginatively delivered in public.

Fans of the future South African president can also acquaint themselves more closely with the man by logging on to the ANC Website which includes photographs and copies of his speeches going back over the past three decades.

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