Comparisons between the first democratic elected, and the second democratic elected presidents of South Africa are bound to be made. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president, cut a jovial image - a grandfather who won the hearts of millions and someone who would receive you with open arms. He was South Africa's showpiece and the standard for all future presidents.
The image that one gets of Thabo Mbeki is different - he is seen as a quiet, hard working man, a man who will not stand for laziness or shirking of duty, a philosopher and one who never acts on impulse.
One can almost sense him sitting behind a huge desk in a study with books filling each and every conceivable space. He is a deep thinker and someone who commands respect.
Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki was born on 18 June 1942, in Idutywa, Queenstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa - his parents were Govan and Epainette.
He joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1956. He matriculated in 1959 and completed the British educational A levels exams in 1960 and 1961. When the ANC became a banned organisation in South Africa in 1960, he worked actively for ANCYL.
He was elected Secretary of the African Students Association in 1961. In 1962 he and a group of other young ANCYL members were instructed by the ANC to leave the country to study and to obtain experience - their expertise and training would be needed later on in the struggle to bring about change in South Africa.
He obtained a Master Of Economics degree at the University of Sussex in 1966 and in the years that followed, underwent military training in the Soviet Union. He worked for the ANC office in London during this period and was sent to Lusaka in 1971.
During the early seventies he was sent to neighbouring countries (Zambia, Lesotho, Botswana) of South Africa to consolidate the underground structures of the ANC and to try and mobilise the people within South Africa.
He married Zanele Dlamini in 1974 - there are no children born from this union. The couple remain happily married. Zanele, herself is an activist for childrens' rights.
He worked steadfastly and quietly and rose quickly within the ranks of the ANC. He was posted throughout different parts of Africa, representing the ANC.
Thabo Mbeki led the ANC delegation which held secret talks with the South African government, led by FW de Klerk in 1989 and in the years that followed. This eventually resulted in the unbanning of the ANC and the release of political prisoners, among them, the great Nelson Mandela.
He was elected chairperson of the ANC in 1993 and in 1994, after South Africa’s first democratic election, he was made the Executive Deputy President of South Africa. Nelson Mandela was elected President. Thabo Mbeki kept a low profile during his term of office, but as he has always has done, worked quietly and steadfastly behind the scenes. He was elected President of the ANC in 1997 and on 16 June 1999, was inaugurated President of South Africa after the ANC had won the second democratic elections, and Nelson Mandela had decided to retire from politics.
He is not a stranger to controversy and his outspokenness regarding some of his ideals have led many people to grumble at his words.
He is a good leader and although he lacks the Mandela charm, he is respected and is generally well liked by the citizens of South Africa.