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Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki (born 18 June 1942) is a South African politician who served almost two terms as the second post-apartheid President of South Africa from 14 June 1999 to 24 September 2008. He is also the brother of Moeletsi Mbeki. On 20 September 2008, he announced his resignation after being recalled by the African National Congress's National Executive Committee, following a conclusion by Judge Nicholson of improper interference in the National Prosecuting Authority , including the prosecution of Jacob Zuma for corruption. On 12 January 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal unanimously overturned Judge Nicholson’s judgment but the resignation stood.

Thabo Mbeki was the executive face of government in South Africa from 1994. Not rated as a statesman domestically, his government was characterised by centralising power and a mixed legacy of poor delivery, corruption, nepotism, good economic growth, and successful foreign policy (excluding Zimbabwe) .

During his time in office the economy grew at an average rate of 4.5% per annum. Mbeki created employment in the middle sectors of the economy and oversaw a fast growing black middle class with the implementation of BEE. This growth exacerbated the demand for trained professionals strained by emigration due to violent crime, but failed to address unemployment amongst the unskilled bulk of the population. He attracted the bulk of Africa’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and made South Africa the focal point of African growth. He was the architect of NEPAD whose aim is to develop an integrated socio-economic development framework for Africa. He also oversaw the successful building of economic bridges to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations with the eventual formation of the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum to "further political consultation and co-ordination as well as strengthening sectoral co-operation, and economic relations".

His domestic policy allowed the economy to flourish at the expense of cross-class employment. Education and health care became more broadly accessible, and were accompanied by an alarming drop in standards. Safety generally improved except for uncontrolled violent crime. His focus on being an African Prime Minister and failure to surround himself with better people led him into the same trap as General Louis Botha whose foreign acclaim did little to alleviate the resentment of his domestic failings. This, and his failure to continue the progress made under Nelson Mandela in nation-building, culminated in the failure to anticipate and deal adequately with the 2008 Xenophobia Attacks.

Mbeki has had many successes in resolving difficult and complex issues on the African continent including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Ivory Coast, and some important peace agreements. He oversaw the transition from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU). His 'quiet diplomacy' in Zimbabwe is blamed for protracting the survival of Robert Mugabe's regime, but may yet yield longer-term stability at the cost of thousands of lives and intense economic pressure on Zimbabwe's neighbours. He became a vocal leader of the Non-Aligned Movement in the United Nations and while leveraging South Africa's seat on the Security Council, agitating for reform of the Security Council.

Mbeki has received worldwide criticism for his HIV/AIDS stance. His questioning of the link between HIV/AIDS and poverty and the AIDS rate in Africa was a challenge to the viral theory of AIDS. His fate was not helped by Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and the overhaul of the pharmaceutical industry in South Africa. The delay in distributing Anti-Retro Virals (ARVs) is attributed to the ban he placed on their use in public state hospitals.

Early life

Born and raised in Idutywamarker (Transkei), what is now the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, Mbeki is one of four children of Epainette and Govan Mbeki. His father was a stalwart of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party. He is a native Xhosa speaker. His parents were both teachers and activists in a rural area of ANC strength, and Mbeki describes himself as "born into the struggle"; a portrait of Karl Marx sat on the family mantelpiece, and a portrait of Mohandas Gandhi was on the wall.

Mbeki attended primary school in Idutywa and Butterworthmarker and acquired a high school education at Lovedale, Alice. In 1959, he was expelled from school as a result of student strikes and forced to continue studies at home. In the same year, he sat for matriculation examinations at St. John's High School, Umtata. In the ensuing years, he completed British "A" levels examinations and undertook an economics degree as an external student with the University of London. During this time, the ANC was banned and Mbeki was involved in underground activities in the Pretoriamarker-Witwatersrandmarker area. He was also involved in mobilising students in support of the ANC call for a stay at home to be held in protest of South Africa becoming a republic.

In December 1961, he was elected secretary of the African Students Association. In the following year, he left Africa on instructions of the ANC.

Govan Mbeki had come to the rural Eastern Cape as a political activist after earning two university degrees; he 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.

Marriage and family

Mbeki married his wife Zanele (née Dlamini) at Farnham Castlemarker, in the United Kingdommarker, in 1974.

Exile and return

After leaving the Eastern Cape, he lived in Johannesburgmarker, working with Walter Sisulu. After the arrest and imprisonment of Sisulu, Mandela and his father, and facing a similar fate, Thabo Mbeki left South Africa as one of a number of young ANC militants (Umkhonto we Sizwe cadres) sent abroad to continue their education and their anti-apartheid activities. He ultimately spent 28 years in exile, only returning to his homeland after the release of Nelson Mandela.

Mbeki spent the early years of his exile in the United Kingdom. In 1962, aged 19, he arrived at the brand-new University of Sussexmarker, earning first a BA degree in economics, and then remaining to complete a Master's degree in African studies. While at Sussex he saw himself as a representative of the ANC and helped motivate the university population against apartheid. Still in the UK, he worked in the ANC's Londonmarker office on Penton Street. He received military training in the Soviet Unionmarker and lived at different times in Botswanamarker, Swazilandmarker and Nigeriamarker, but his primary base was in Lusakamarker, Zambiamarker, the site of the ANC headquarters.

In 1973, he was sent to Botswana. He engaged the Botswana government in discussions to open an ANC office there. He left Botswana in 1974.

In 1975, he became a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. In December 1976, he was sent to Nigeriamarker as a representative of the ANC.

While in exile, his brother Jama Mbeki , a supporter of the rival Pan Africanist Congress , was murdered by agents of the Lesothomarker 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."

Mbeki devoted his life to the ANC and during his years in exile was given increased responsibility. Following the 1976 Soweto riots, a student uprising in the township outside Johannesburg, he initiated a regular radio broadcast from Lusaka, tying ANC followers inside the country to their exiled leaders. Encouraging activists to keep up the pressure on the apartheid regime was a key component in the ANC's campaign to liberate their country. In the late 1970s, Mbeki made a number of trips to the United Statesmarker in search of support among U.S. corporations. Literate and funny, he made a wide circle of friends in New York Citymarker. Mbeki was appointed head of the ANC's information department in 1984 and then became head of the international department in 1989, reporting directly to Oliver Tambo, then President of the ANC. Tambo was Mbeki's long-time mentor.

In 1985, Mbeki was a member of a delegation that began meeting secretly with representatives of the South African business community, and in 1989, he led the ANC delegation that conducted secret talks with the South African government. These talks led to the unbanning of the ANC and the release of political prisoners. He also participated in many of the other important negotiations between the ANC and the government that eventually led to the democratisation of South Africa.

He became a deputy president of South Africa in May 1994 on the attainment of universal suffrage (Right To Vote), and sole deputy-president in June 1996. He succeeded Nelson Mandela as ANC president in December 1997 and as president of the Republic in June 1999 (inaugurated on 16 June); he was subsequently reelected for a second term in April 2004.

Role in African politics

Mbeki has been a notably powerful figure in African politics, positioning South Africa as a regional power broker and also 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 Rwandamarker, Burundimarker, Ivory Coastmarker and the Democratic Republic of Congomarker. He has also tried to popularise the concept of an African Renaissance. He sees African dependence on aid and foreign intervention as a major barrier to the continent being taken seriously in the world of economics and politics, 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.

Economic policies

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

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.

Political style

Mbeki giving a speech to District Six land claimants in Cape Town

Mbeki was sometimes been characterised 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, sometimes dancing at events and even kissing babies. Yet, the fact that this was remarkable confirms the broader observation that Mbeki values the exercise of centralised policy over demonstrations of grassroots populism.

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 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.Indeed, in initiating his columns, 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.

Mbeki and the Internet

Mbeki appears to have been at ease with the Internet and willing to quote from it. For instance, in a column discussing Hurricane Katrina, he cited Wikipedia, quoted at length a discussion of Katrina's lessons on American inequality from the Native American publication Indian Country Today, and then included excerpts from a David Brooks column in the New York Times in a discussion of why the events of Katrina illustrated the necessity for global development and redistribution of wealth.

His penchant for quoting diverse and sometimes obscure sources, both from the Internet and from a wide variety of books, made his column an interesting parallel to political blogs although the ANC does not describe it in these terms. His views on AIDS (see below) were supported by Internet searching which led him to so-called "AIDS denialist" websites; in this case, Mbeki's use of the Internet was roundly criticised and even ridiculed by opponents.

Global apartheid

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 [5454], arguing that a "global human society based on poverty for many and prosperity for a few, characterised by islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty, is unsustainable". [5455]



South Africa's proximity, strong trade links, and similar struggle credentials place South Africa in a unique position to influence politics in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's hyperinflation since 2000 was a matter of increasing concern to Britain (as the former colonial power) and other donors to that country. High-ranking diplomatic visits to South Africa repeatedly attempted to persuade 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.

Rather than publicly criticising Mugabe's government, Mbeki chose 'quiet diplomacy' over 'megaphone diplomacy' - his term for the West's increasingly forthright condemnation of Mugabe's rule. Mbeki is even quoted claiming "there is no crisis" in Zimbabwe, despite increased evidence of political violence and murders, and the influx of political refugees into South Africa.

To quote Mbeki:
"The point really about all this from our perspective has been that the critical role we should play is to assist the Zimbabweans to find each other, really to agree among themselves about the political, economic, social, other solutions that their country needs. We could have stepped aside from that task and then shouted, and that would be the end of our contribution...They would shout back at us and that would be the end of the story. I'm actually the only head of government that I know anywhere in the world who has actually gone to Zimbabwe and spoken publicly very critically of the things that they are doing."

2002 Presidential elections

Mugabe faced a critical presidential election in 2002. The run-up was shadowed by a difficult decision to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. The full meeting of the Commonwealth had failed in a consensus to decide on the issue, and they tasked the previous, present (at the time), and future leaders of Commonwealth (respectively President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeriamarker, John Howard of Australia, and Mbeki of South Africa) to come to a consensus between them over the issue. On 20 March 2002 (10 days after the elections, which Mugabe won) Howard announced that they had agreed to suspend Zimbabwe for a year.

2005 Parliamentary Elections

In the face of laws restricting public assembly and freedom of the media, restricting campaigning by the MDC for the 2005 Zimbabwe parliamentary elections, President 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.

Minerals and Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka led the largest foreign observer mission, the 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 delegation (part SA Parliamentary Observer Mission) clashed with the minister 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.

Dialogue between Zanu-PF and MDC

Mbeki attempted to restore dialogue between Zimbabweanmarker President Robert Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in the face of denials from both parties. A fact-finding mission in 2004 by Congress of South African Trade Unions to Zimbabwe led to their widely-publicised deportation back to South Africa which reopened the debate, even within the ANC, as to whether Mbeki's policy of 'quiet diplomacy' was constructive.

On 5 February 2006 Mbeki said in an interview with SABC television 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. Mbeki has to tell the world what he was really talking about."

In May 2007 it was reported that Mbeki had been partisan and taken sides with Zanu-PF in his role as mediator. He had given pre-conditions to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change 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 the MDC accept the 2002 presidential election results despite wide-spread belief of being unfree, unfair, and fraudulent.

Business response

On 10 January 2006, businessman Warren Clewlow, on the board of four of the top-10 listed companies in SA, including Old Mutual, Sasol, Nedbank and Barloworld, 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. Clewlow's sentiments reflected the South African private sector's increasing impatience with Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" and were echoed by Business Unity South Africa , the umbrella body for business organisations in South Africa.

As the company's chairman, he said in Barloworld's latest annual report that SA's efforts to date were fruitless and that the only means for a solution was for SA "to lead from the front. Our role and responsibility is not just to promote discussion... Our aim must be to achieve meaningful and sustainable change."

Position on Mugabe

Mbeki was frequently criticised for having failed to exert pressure on Mr. Mugabe to relinquish power, but chaired meetings in which the Zimbabwean leader's departure from power is being negotiated. He rejected calls in May 2007 for tough action against Zimbabwe ahead of a visit by the then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. He said on 29 July 2007 that Zimbabwe elections in March 2008 must be 'free and fair'. An article critical of Mbeki's handling of Mugabe appeared in Forbes and claimed a peaceful transfer of power in Zimbabwe "will not be because of [Mbeki], but in spite of him."Ebrahim Fakir, a researcher at the Johannesburg-based Centre for Policy Studies, and Susan Booysen, political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, say that Mbeki has botched his legacy over his cautious approach to Mugabe. The media has been very critical - The Washington Post published a commentary describing Mbeki as a bankrupt democrat and accused him of complicity in "stealing" the Zimbabwean election. The Economist called Mbeki's actions "unconscionable".

SADC facilitator of Zimbabwe power-sharing agreement

At the end of the fourth day of negotiations, South African President and mediator to Zimbabwemarker, Thabo Mbeki, announced in Hararemarker 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." Mbeki stated: "An agreement has been reached on all items on the agenda ... all of them [Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Mutambara] endorsed the document tonight, and signed it. The formal signing will be done on Monday 10am. The document will be released then. The ceremony will be attended by the SADC and other African regional and continental leaders. The leaders will spend the next few days constituting the inclusive government to be announced on Monday. The leaders will work very hard to mobilise support for the people to recover. We hope the world will assist so that this political agreement succeeds." In the signed historic power deal, Mugabe, on 11 September 2008 agreed to surrender day-to-day control of the government and the deal is also expected to result in a de facto amnesty for the military and ZANU-PF party leaders. Opposition sources said "Tsvangirai will become prime minister at the head of a council of ministers, the principal organ of government, drawn from his party and the president's ZANU-PF party; and Mugabe will remain president and continue to chair a cabinet that will be a largely consultative body, and the real power will lie with Tsvangirai. South Africa’s Business Day reported, however, that Mugabe was refusing to sign a deal which would curtail his presidential powers. The New York Times said Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for MDC-T, announced: “This is an inclusive government. The executive power would be shared by the president, the prime minister and the cabinet. Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara have still not decided how to divide the ministries. But Jendayi E. Frazer, the American assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said: “We don’t know what’s on the table, and it’s hard to rally for an agreement when no one knows the details or even the broad outlines”

On 15 September 2008, the leaders of the 14-member Southern African Development Community witnessed the signing of the power-sharing agreement, brokered by Mbeki. With symbolic handshake and warm smiles at the Rainbow Towers hotel, in Hararemarker, Mugabe and Tsvangirai signed the deal to end violent political crisis provides. As provided, Mugabe will remain president, Morgan Tsvangirai will become prime minister, the MDC will control the police, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF will command the Army, and Arthur Mutambara becomes deputy prime minister.


Mbeki's views on the causes of AIDS, and in particular the link between HIV and AIDS, and the treatment of AIDS were also much criticised.

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 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 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 implemenation of the plan

However, after becoming President, Mbeki changed tack and represented the views of a small group of dissident scientists who claimed that AIDS was not caused by HIV.. On July 9, 2000, at the International AIDS Conference in Durban, President 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 authorise 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.

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 antiretroviral drugs programme and applauded Mbeki's government.

However 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. Notwithstanding and despite international drug companies offering free or cheap antiretroviral 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 antiretrovirals designed to specifically target HIV. In November 2003, the government finally approved a plan to make antiretroviral treatment publicly available. It appears that this was only after the Cabinet had overruled the President.

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.

2006 Zuma rape trial

In 2006 Jacob Zuma (who became president of South Africa in 2009) went on trial for allegedly raping an HIV-positive woman. He argued that she had consented to sex and he was eventually found not guilty, but attracted controversy when he stated that he had showered after sex in the belief that this would reduce his chances of becoming infected with HIV. Criticism of the government's response to AIDS heightened, with UN special envoy Stephen Lewis attacking the government as "obtuse and negligent" at the International AIDS Conference in Toronto. At the end of the year, the government announced a draft framework to tackle AIDS and pledged to improve antiretroviral drug access.

Mbeki and the Cabinet

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. Again 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 (the infamous "African potatoes and garlic") to AIDS while highlighting the toxicities of antiretroviral 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.

AIDS denialist connections

Mbeki's more inclusive stance led some to connect him to AIDS denialism. While serving as deputy President, AIDS was in his portfolio, and he customarily wore a red ribbon while specifically promoting AIDS prevention measures. He did preside 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 he assumed the Presidency, he appears to have articulated more clearly his understanding that poverty is a significant co-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. Some speculate that the suspicion engendered by a life in exile and by the colonial domination and control of Africa led Mbeki to react against a portrayal of AIDS as another Western characterisation of Africans as promiscuous and Africa as a continent of disease and hopelessness. For example, speaking to a group of university students in 2001, he struck out against what he viewed as the racism underlying how many in the West characterised AIDS in Africa:

Convinced that we are but natural-born, promiscuous carriers of germs, unique in the world, they proclaim that our continent is doomed to an inevitable mortal end because of our unconquerable devotion to the sin of lust.

Additionally, his views dovetailed with some broader themes in African politics. Many Africans find it suspicious that black Africans bear the largest share of the AIDS burden, and that the drugs to treat it are expensive and sold mainly by Western pharmaceutical companies. 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.

ANC rules and Mbeki's commitment to the idea of party discipline mean that he may not publicly criticise the current government policy that HIV causes AIDS and that antiretrovirals should be provided. Some critics of Mbeki continued to assert that notwithstanding he continued to influence AIDS policy through his personal views behind the scenes, a charge which his office regularly denies. However, in a 2007 published biography "Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred", author Mark Gevisser describes how the president, 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 Mr. 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 Mr Gevisser describes the president's view of the disease as apparently shaped by an obsession with race, the legacy of colonialism and "sexual shame".

Since release of the biography, President 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.

Power crisis

In January 2008 the South African government announced that it would introduce electricity rationing. On 25 January 2008 the country's deepening power crisis was such that South Africa's (and the world's) largest gold and platinum mining companies were forced to shut down operations. Eskom (the national power supplier) and the government both apologized for the blackouts and in his next-to-last State of the Nation speech Mbeki devoted nearly three pages to the electricity crisis, repeating the apologies of Eskom and the government. Mbeki 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 (the earliest 10 years previously) that without new power stations Eskom might not be able to meet demand by 2007. Each year over the preceding 10 years, Eskom had produced annual Integrated Strategic Electricity Plans each setting out scenarios of future investment requirements to cope with projected increased demand, but although projections of average demand growth in the period 2001–2005 had been accurate, no investment had been forthcoming. 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 policy of giving preference to small suppliers had caused problems in securing reliable supplies of coal, and had also, because small suppliers did not have the capital to invest in rail or conveyor belts infrastructure but used coal trucks, accelerated the wear and tear damage to the roads around the power stations. Warnings highlighted in several of Eskom's annual reports, starting in 2003, had been ignored not only by the Eskom board but also its political masters, Mbeki’s government.

The power problems were further exacerbated by Mbeki's government policy of attracting energy-intensive industry (such as Aluminium smelters) through the carrot of cheap electricity. This meant that, as Eskom’s excess capacity ran out and became a deficit, the South African government finds itself contractually bound to provide power to energy-intensive industries. Despite this meaning the rest of the country experienced traffic problems and business disruption due to the blackouts. For South Africa to remain a desirable foreign investment destination the country must be seen to honour its contractual obligations. To shut down the smelters is not a simple process, said one analyst. Government would be paying the cost of effects all through the relevant parties aluminium value chain – its aluminium refineries and bauxite ore mines in other countries.


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 African National Congress website, the president rebuked the doubters. Mr 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 (apparently sarcastically) to her as an "internationally recognised 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." Mr Mbeki also described the newspaper The Citizen, and other commentators who challenged the apparent fall in crime, as pessimists who did not trust black rule.

In January 2007, the African Peer Review Mechanism 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. Mbeki in response said in an interview that fears of crime were exaggerated.

In December 2007 the final African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) report on South Africa, again suggested that there was an unacceptably high level of violent crime in the country. President Mbeki said the suggestion of unacceptably high violent crime appeared to be 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. Although rape statistics had been obtained from the South African Police Service, "this only denotes the incidents of rape that were reported, some of which could have resulted in acquittals" Mbeki indicated.

2008 Xenophobia attacks

In May 2008 a series of riots took place in a number of townships, mainly in Gauteng Provincemarker, 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.

Following the riots 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 recognising the scale of the problem caused by the flood of Zimbabweans into South Africa."

In response to the violence President Mbeki announced he would set up a panel of experts to investigate the riots, and authorized military force against rioters. This is the first time that such an authorization of military force was used by the government since the end of apartheid.

Debate with Archbishop Tutu

In 2004 the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Townmarker, Desmond Tutu, criticised President 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. He also accused Mbeki and the ANC of suppressing public debate. Mbeki responded that 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 Mbeki and the ANC. The latter suggested that 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 Tutu had not sought this status, it was described in the press as a particularly pointed and personal critique of Tutu. Tutu responded that he would pray for Mbeki as he had prayed for the officials of the apartheid government.

Mbeki, Zuma, and succession

In 2005 Mbeki removed Jacob Zuma from his post as Deputy President of South Africa, after Zuma was implicated in a corruption scandal. In October 2005, some supporters of Zuma (who remained deputy president of the ANC) burned T-shirts portraying Mbeki's picture at a protest. In late 2005, Zuma faced new rape charges, which dimmed his political prospects. There was visible split between Zuma's supporters and Mbeki's allies in the ANC.

In February 2006, Mbeki told the SABC that he and the ANC had no intention to change the Constitution of the country in order 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."

Mbeki, although barred by the Constitution of South Africa from seeking a third term as president of the country, in 2007 entered the race to be President of the ANC (no term limit exists for the position of ANC president), for a third term, in a close battle with Jacob Zuma. He lost this vote against Jacob Zuma on the 18th of December 2007 at the ANC conference in Polokwane. Zuma went on to be the ANC's presidential candidate in the 2009 general election.


Mbeki filed affidavit and applied to the Constitutional Court to appeal Pietermaritzburgmarker High Court Judge Chris Nicholson's 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." Tlali Tlali, National Prosecuting Authority spokesman, stated by phone from Pretoriamarker, on 23 September: "We have received the papers. It's under consideration."


Note: Unless otherwise specified, the terms "president" and "deputy president" refer to roles in government, whereas "ANC president" or "ANC deputy president" refer to roles in the ANC political party.

Having "made it a point not to contest this decision" of the ANC NEC that Mbeki was no longer fit to lead South Africa, he formally announced his resignation on 21 September 2008, at 19:30 South African time (17:30 UTC), as a result of the ANC National Executive Committee's decision no longer to support him in parliament. This 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 Mbeki and others in his prosecution. Parliament convened on 22 September and accepted his resignation with effect from 25 September; however, because an MP for the Freedom Front 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 (Member of Parliament), 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 at the time none of these.

The current deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was unlikely to be chosen either, apparently due to her close ties to Mbeki and because her husband, Bulelani Ngcuka was involved in the decision to charge Zuma with corruption. As a result the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, had been cited as the likely caretaker president;; however, speaking on behalf of the ANC, Zuma strongly hinted at ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who is an MP, becoming Mbeki's replacement for the remainder of the current term of parliament, which ended in early 2009. Although Zuma could put pressure on the government and his party to choose 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 ruling African National Congress (ANC) stated that Mbeki's resignation would take effect on 25 September 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 (Motlanthe) 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."

Letter to Zuma

Shortly after his resignation, it came to Mbeki's attention that, on either October 7 or October 8, Zuma and ANC Youth League President Julius Malema had publicly announced that they would require Mbeki to campaign for the ruling party in the 2009 general election. So shocked was he by this that he penned a lengthy missive to Zuma (later leaked to the press), mildly censuring him:

As you know, neither of you had discussed this with me prior to your announcements.
Nobody in the ANC leadership — including you, the presidents of the ANC and ANCYL — has raised this matter with me since then.
To avoid controversy, I have declined all invitations publicly to indicate whether I intended to act as you indicated or otherwise.

Mbeki went on to recall that Zuma had earlier sent Motlanthe and Mantashe to inform him both of the ANC's loss of confidence in him and of Zuma's opinion that he ought to resign as South African President, which he duly did:

I therefore could not understand how the same ANC which was so disenchanted with me could, within a fortnight, consider me such a dependable cadre as could be relied upon to promote the political fortunes of the very same movement, the ANC, which I had betrayed in such a grave and grevious [sic] manner as to require that I should be removed from the presidency of the Republic a mere six or seven months before the end of our term, as mandated by the masses of our people!

Mbeki was also keen to quell the notion that ANC splinter group the Congress of the People (COPE) was "driven by their loyalty to me as an individual":

During the decades we have worked together in the ANC, we have had the great fortune that our movement has consistently repudiated the highly noxious phenomenon of the "cult of personality", which we saw manifested in other countries.
It therefore came as a surprise to me that anybody within our revolutionary democratic movement could so much as suggest, and therefore insult somebody like Terror Lekota [leader of COPE] that he could act as he has, whether rightly or wrongly, driven by attachment to a personal cult!
In this context, given that I have worked longer with you than I have worked with Terror, I would be interested to know your view of any instance in our movement during which it fell victim to the noxious phenomenon of the personality cult, as a result of which it ceased to think, content to act in the manner of the "anointed personality", such as the late Kim Il-Sung determined to the people of North Koreamarker!

Mbeki went on to a long list of the names of "varied titans of our struggle" whom "I've been privileged to interact with" — the most notable to the press being Robert Mugabe, especially in light of the following elucidation:

I have mentioned the people I have to make essential and crucial points, central to the value system of our movement and struggle, that none of these heroes or heroines ever sought adulation in any manner that would turn them into cult figures.
They never did anything, nor did we act in any way as we grew up in the liberation movement, which would result in our movement being enslaved in the cult of the individual.
[...] I know this as a matter of fact that all the heroes and heroines I have mentioned would have opposed the emergence of such a cult with every fibre in their revolutionary bones!"

Alluding to seditious statements by Malema to the effect that he would "take up arms and kill for Zuma", Mbeki went on to intimate that he had fears of Zuma developing a personality cult of his own:

For this reason I find it strange in the extreme that today cadres of our movement attach the label of a "cult of personality" to me, and indeed publicly declare a determination "to kill" to defend your own cause, the personal interests of "the personality", Jacob Zuma!
When we last met, on September 19, 2008, at the Denel buildings adjacent to the Oliver Tambo International Airport, I restated to you the incontrovertible fact that you knew that our engagement in the struggle for the liberation of our people had never been informed by a striving for personal power, status or benefit.
In this context I told you that should the ANC NEC, which was meeting from that day, decide that I should no longer serve as president of the Republic, having been the ANC presidential candidate presented to the Second and Third democratic parliament in 2004, I would respect this decision and therefore resign.
I have been informed informally that you reported this to the ANC NEC at the conclusion of the discussion about this particular matter.
I take this opportunity sincerely to thank you for communicating my views to the NEC in this regard.

Mbeki next turned his attention to the matter of Zuma's much-publicised legal travails:

For some years now our movement has had to manage an immensely challenging and unprecedented situation, occasioned by the criminal charges preferred against you by the National Prosecuting Authority, and related matters.
I also mention this fact in this letter because, despite our best efforts, many in our movement and our population at large have refused to believe the sincere message both of us strived to communicate, that there were and are no divisions between us, and that nobody should use our names to incite or perpetuate division in the ANC and the country.
When the December 2007 Polokwane ANC National Conference elected you president of the ANC, and responding to Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe's suggestion, I walked with you to the platform, publicly to demonstrate my acceptance of that outcome, as did other Comrades who had been defeated in the electoral process.

In conclusion, he offered some self-defence and counsel:

There is absolutely nothing I have done through this half-a-century of struggle of which I am ashamed.
Above all, I know of nothing I have done which, to my knowledge, constitutes a betrayal of the interests of the masses of our people and their confidence in the ANC.
Despite all this, I have taken note of the campaign that some in our ranks, supported by some in our media, have waged for many years focused on discrediting me in particular, given the senior positions I have occupied in the ANC, and the ANC in general.
I have constantly been acutely aware of the fact that this campaign has been based on outright lies and deliberate and malicious distortions.
For many years I have refused to stoop to a public debate driven by these fabrications, which would demean and destroy the dignity of the ANC, its leadership and me personally.
I must admit that this posture might have produced results we never intended, specifically as it might have suggested that we could not contest the lies that have been told.
I know that now there are some in our country and elsewhere in the world who appear on television programmes or contribute newspaper opinion columns as "experts" or "analysts", simply on the basis of their readiness to abandon all ethical considerations and self-respect, to propagate entirely fabricated and negative notions about what our national democratic revolution means to our country and people.
Because of the services some of these have rendered to the opponents of the national democratic revolution, the "experts" and "analysts" and others who market themselves as "intellectuals/academics" have been handsomely rewarded with material possessions as embedded opponents of the national democratic revolution.
Yet such is the malaise that has entrenched itself in our democracy, including our movement, that we do not ask the obvious question — how can such "intellectuals/academics" have come to accumulate such wealth?
Bearing in mind everything I have said, let me then address the immediate matters on the national agenda, which relate directly to me.
(1) Comrade Lekota and others have not engaged me in any of the actions they have taken, to secure my approval or otherwise.
(2) The ANC leadership has not engaged me in any of the responses it has taken in this regard, to secure my approval or otherwise.
(3) Informally, I have communicated my view to both these contending groups, members of the ANC, that they should address all matters that might be in contention.
(4) In my President's Political Report to the Polokwane 52nd National Conference of the ANC, presented as prescribed by the ANC constitution, I warned of the grave challenges our movement was facing.
I suggested that the conference should discuss these.
This was not done.
Ten months after this report was presented, I still stand by what it said.
Following the developments of December 2007 and September 2008, relating to tasks I had been given by the ANC, I have considered carefully what I should do as a private South African and African citizen.
Currently I am working as speedily as I can to elaborate the substance of this work, which will ensure that whatever I do in no way involves me in the internal politics of the ANC or the functioning of the government of South Africa.
As the saying goes, I refuse absolutely to rule from the grave.
History will judge whether what I did during my political life, until September 25, 2008, is worth anything.
Given the December 2007 and September 2008 outcomes to which I have referred, I trust that you will take the necessary measures to:
Remind all comrades that everything we have done since 1994, to advance the national democratic revolution, has been based on collective decisions of our movement, without exceptions;
Encourage all Comrades honestly to confront the real problems, challenges and opportunities that the ANC, the broad democratic movement and our country face; and,
Convince these Comrades to desist from abandoning their revolutionary democratic obligations by falsely and dishonestly pretending that the goals of the national democratic revolution have been frustrated, if they have been, through the actions of one individual - Thabo Mbeki.
I would like to believe that you and I have devoted out adult lives to the victory of the national democratic revolution, and nothing else.
Similarly, I would like to believe that we have always understood that this revolution has as its principal focus the upliftment and empowerment of the millions of our working people, including women, who constitute the overwhelming majority of our people.
Accordingly, we have understood that this revolution has absolutely nothing to do with the personal fortunes of those who might, by virtue of historical accident, be its leaders at any particular moment.
I would like to believe that in this context we agree that the strategic and historic task facing the tried-and-tested leaders and cadres of our movement is to determine what needs to be done, next, to advance the goals of the national democratic revolution, focused on advancing the interests of the millions of the working masses.
In my view, with which you are free to disagree, the revolutionary tasks we confront are to:
Recognise the various factors that have militated against the achievement of the unity and cohesion of the ANC in the recent past;
Defeat the actions prevalent in our governance system, especially the provinces and municipalities, to remove from their positions Comrades who are perceived as belonging to factions different from those which currently serve as elected leaders in the current elected ANC structures;
Renew the democratic movement on the basis of:
opposition to the cult of personality
the defeat of careerism and opportunism;
the defeat of the use of violence in the ANC and the rest of the democratic movement to impose particular leadership cliques interested in winning government tenders for themselves and their friends;
the defeat of bureaucratic parasitic tendency leading to the abuse of state power for self-enrichment;
the rejection of the phenomenon of the emergence of a black compradore [sic] bourgeosie [sic] which, in the context of BBBEE [Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment], is ready to front both for the domestic white and international capitalists;
commitment to the implementation of a socio-economic programme focused on economic growth and development, the restructuring and development of our economy, reducing unemployment and poverty, and sharing the wealth of our country in terms of our national, class and gender categories.
Nobody, and I believe the leadership of the ANC above all others, can ignore the conclusion that today our country stands at a particular crossroad.
This means that the decisions we take today will impact on our country and the masses of our people for a considerable number of years.
I am confident that the decisions the leadership of the ANC will take in this regard, with you at its head, will indeed advance the goals of the national democratic revolution to which so many of us, led by the veterans of our movement, have dedicated our lives.
As a small plea in this regard, I appeal that nobody should abuse or cite my name falsely to promote their partisan cause, including how the 2009 ANC election campaign will be conducted.
Thabo Mbeki

ANC leaders subsequently selectively quoted extracts from the letter to show that Mbeki had completely disassociated himself from COPE, but failed to mention those parts which pronounced unfavourably upon Zuma and the current ANC leadership. Not long after, however, the letter was leaked to the press, sparking considerable public scrutiny.

2009 general election

The direction of Mbeki's vote in South Africa's 2009 general election was a matter of moot discussion amongst press and public alike. Although Mbeki had completely disassociated himself from party politics subsequent to his resignation, many suggested that COPE, comprised in large part of Mbeki loyalists, would secure his mark on the ballot paper. On Election Day, April 22, having done the deed, Mbeki announced that his vote was a secret and called on the electorate to exercise its democratic right not out of fear or historical loyalty, but for a future that it desired and a party that would further its ends. These sentiments were widely interpreted as pro-COPE; indeed, the party's First Deputy President Mbhazima Shilowa confirmed on his Facebook page that "i [sic] liked TM's message". It was noted, though, that, despite having been invited, Mbeki had failed to attend a COPE rally the week before.


Honorary degrees

Mbeki has received many honorary degrees from South African and foreign universities. Mbeki received an honorary doctorate in business administration from the Arthur D Little Institute, Bostonmarker, in 1994. In 1995, he received honorary doctorate from the University of South Africamarker and an honorary doctorate of laws from Sussex Universitymarker. Mbeki was awarded an honorary doctorate from Rand Afrikaans Universitymarker in 1999. In 2000 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from Glasgow Caledonian Universitymarker. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in commercial sciences by the University of Stellenboschmarker.

Orders and decorations

During Mbeki's official visit to Britain in 2001, he was made an honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB). The Mayor of Athensmarker, Dora Bakoyannis, awarded Mbeki with the City of Athens Medal of Honour in 2005. During Mbeki's official visit to Sudanmarker in 2005, he was awarded Sudan's Insignia of Honour in recognition of his role in resolving conflicts and working for development in the Continent. In 2007, 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 Townmarker by the current grand prior, Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. (born 18 June 1942)


Mbeki was awarded the Good Governance Award in 1997 by the US-based Corporate Council on Africa. He received the Newsmaker of the year award from Pretoria News Press Association in 2000 and repeated the honour in 2008, this time under the auspices of media research company Monitoring South Africa. In honour of his commitment to democracy in the new South Africa, Mbeki was awarded the Oliver Tambo/ Johnny Makatini Freedom Award in 2000. Mbeki was awarded the Peace and Reconciliation Award at the Gandhi Awards for Reconciliation in Durbanmarker in 2003. In 2004, Mbeki was awarded the Good Brother Award by Washingtonmarker's National Congress of Black Women for his commitment to gender equality and the emancipation of women in South Africa. In 2005, he was also awarded the Champion of the Earth Award by the United Nations. During the European-wide Action Week Against Racism in 2005, 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 Mbeki was awarded the Confederation of African Football's Order of Merit for his contribution to football on the continent.


  • "A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream," by Mark Gevisser, 2009



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