Page last updated at 13:32 GMT, Saturday, 20 September 2008 14:32 UK

Rise and fall of Thabo Mbeki

By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa analyst

Thabo Mbeki, pictured on 11 September 2008
Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela and led South Africa for a decade

Thabo Mbeki was born into one of the leading families of the African National Congress.

His father - Govan - was a stalwart of both the ANC and the Communist Party.

Thabo spent his early years in the rural Transkei. His father was often away on party business and he worked in the family store while he went to school.

At 14 Thabo Mbeki joined the ANC, and the party became his life. He left South Africa in 1962, travelling to Tanzania before going on to Britain where he studied economics at Sussex University.

He was a popular figure, although his contemporaries remarked that he was always somewhat aloof.

In 1970 Thabo Mbeki went to the Soviet Union for military training and then on to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, where he was integrated into the exile structures of the ANC.

He served the movement in Botswana, Swaziland and Nigeria before returning to Lusaka to become political secretary to the party's leader, Oliver Tambo.

In 1985 Mr Mbeki was a member of a delegation that opened secret talks with South African businessmen and leading Afrikaners - paving the way for the unbanning of the ANC and the end of apartheid.

In May 1994 he became deputy president under Nelson Mandela.

It was Mr Mbeki who chaired the key committee that negotiated the controversial $5bn (2.7bn) deal to modernise the country's defence force.

It was a deal that was to haunt both him and the country - with allegations of corruption against leading ANC members, including its current leader, Jacob Zuma.

African diplomacy

In December 1997 Mr Mbeki succeeded Mr Mandela as ANC leader. He became president two years later - winning a second term in 2004.

As leader of South Africa he has had his fair share of strengths and weaknesses.

He was widely criticised for his unexplained stand on HIV and Aids, when he supported alternative treatments rather than backing medical advice.

Thabo Mbeki holds the hand of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (R) at Harare airport on 21 July 2008
Mr Mbeki has been both praised and criticised for his action on Zimbabwe

His stand on Zimbabwe was also attacked, when he resolutely refused to openly pressurise President Robert Mugabe, insisting that quiet diplomacy would yield results.

This week his stand finally paid dividends when a power-sharing deal was agreed.

Mr Mbeki's stand on other African issues won wide support - with his vision of an African Renaissance.

Under his leadership South African troops went into Darfur and supported peace operations in Burundi. He backed efforts to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo and - less successfully - in Ivory Coast.

But it was his role at home that caused Thabo Mbeki's downfall.

Many within the ANC believed he was an inveterate plotter, and many had the scars to prove it.

His alleged role in plotting against Mr Zuma, his former deputy, was the last straw.

Now Thabo Mbeki has been made to pay the price.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2020 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific