Mbeki took after his father Govan, who was a strong supporter of the ANC and the South African Communist Party. Mbeki spent his early years living in Johannesburg and working with Walter Sisulu, a close friend of Nelson Mandela.
After the arrest of Sisulu and Mandela, he went into exile as one of the young leaders of the ANC. He was sent to many different African nations to teach young black men about anti-apartheid related activities being conducted by the ANC. While in exile, Mbeki spent most of his time in Lusaka, Zambia, which was the headquarters of the ANC. In all, he spent 28 years in hiding and returned to South Africa shortly after Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
Upon his arrival in South Africa, Mbeki burst onto the political scene. He became Deputy President of South Africa in 1994 and eventually succeeded Nelson Mandela as president of both the ANC and the Republic. Prior to his presidency,
there were many apprehensions from those within South Africa who believed he possessed dictator-like qualities. The following is a portion of a BBC piece that was published prior to Mbeki’s presidency:
“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.”
These beliefs brought a lot of fear into the heart of South African citizens. Mbeki’s presidency was a mixed bag consisting of economic success and questionable political stances. He has long been accused of protecting Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe. Mugabe launched many state-sponsored attacks against his political opponents, killing and injuring countless numbers of people. Instead of criticizing Mugabe, Mbeki decided to take a path of “quiet diplomacy” and even stated that no crisis existed in Zimbabwe.