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Born 18 June 1942, in the village of Idutywa in the Transkei, South Africa, Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki was the son of the leading figure of African National Congress (ANC) activities in the Eastern Cape Govan Mbeki, and Epainette Mbeki.

Believing that sooner or later they would be arrested, Mbeki's parents decided that family and friends would also be responsible for bringing up the children. Mbeki therefore spent long periods away from home.

At 14, he joined and became active in the (ANC) Youth League. He was expelled from school as a result of an organised strike, and continued his studies at home. He then moved to Johannesburg where he came under the guidance of Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe. There he corresponded to London University for his A Levels and first two years on an economics undergraduate course.

He left the country in 1962, eventually to study in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile his father was convicted of treason and given a life sentence in 1964. In 1966, he completed to Masters degree in Economics at the University of Sussex. He organized ANC exile operations in London, traveled to the Soviet Union for guerilla training, then joined ANC leader Oliver Tambo in exile headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, and moved up the ranks of the ANC's leadership.

Mbeki was an early proponent of negotiating with the white minority, rather than seeking a military victory, and when he returned to South Africa in 1990, he became a key player in the negotiations that led to the dismantling of apartheid. He co-ordinating campaigns to involve more white South Africans in the struggle against apartheid. He led the ANC delegation which held secret talks with the South African government from 1989 and which led to agreements about the unbanning of the ANC and the release of political prisoners. He was part of the delegation which engaged the government in "talks about talks". He participated in the Groote Schuur and Pretoria deliberations, which resulted in the agreements which became known as the Groote Schuur and Pretoria Minutes (1990). He participated in all subsequent negotiations leading to the adoption of the interim Constitution for the new South Africa.

Elected chairperson of the ANC (1993), meaning he'd be succeeding the late former President and chairperson of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, with whom he had a close working relationship over the years. Hand-picked by Nelson Mandela to be the Executive Deputy President of the South African Government of National Unity (May 1994 - June 1999). Elected President of the African National Congress, 18 December 1997. Inaugurated as President of South Africa, 16 June 1999.

A remarkable speaker and writer, Mbeki wrote key speeches for Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, and writes his own speeches. His writing is well-threaded with allusions to poets, writers, and politicians, and his delivery is well-paced and forceful. It has been said that he has been groomed for the position of President since he was born, and the results seem to agree with that claim. His I am an African speech may be his most famous.

He is married to Zanele Dlamini, and they have no children.