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Author : Jacob Zuma

Thabo Mbeki Centenary Lecture delivered by President Jacob Zuma

9 November 2012

Aliwal North, Eastern Cape

Theme: Let a hundred flowers bloom

The National Chairperson, Secretary General and all ANC officials,
Provincial Chairperson of the ANC, Comrade Phumulo Masualle;
NEC members and Provincial leadership;
The esteemed Mbeki Family;
Leadership of the Tripartite Alliance;
Distinguished guests;
Comrades and friends,

We have come almost to the end of our centenary series on ANC presidents, undertaken as part of marking the rich legacy of our glorious movement in its 100 years of existence.

The road that the ANC has travelled in 100 years, in the quest for freedom, justice, equality and human rights has been complex, daunting but also very successful, as demonstrated in the reflection on the contribution of all previous Presidents.

Today we reflect on the legacy of our 11th President, Comrade Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki, a committed cadre, comrade and leader and son of the ANC.

He succeeded President Nelson Mandela as ANC President in December 1997 and in June 1999 President Mbeki was inaugurated as the second President of the democratic South Africa after a landslide ANC electoral victory.

He was elected for a second term as President of the Republic in 2004.

President Mbeki has distinguished himself in the ANC.

He played a critical role in the organisation’s life in particular during the periods 1961 to 1990, the era of armed resistance, exile and mass mobilisation.

He also contributed immensely during the period from 1990, from negotiations to the democratic transition and transformation.

President Mbeki was born in Idutywa in the former Transkei in June 1942, the second child of late Comrade Govan Mbeki and his wife Epainette. Both his parents were cadres of the national liberation struggle.

His early life has been well-documented and appreciated.

In 1962 President Mbeki left South Africa for a life in exile, in which he contributed immensely to the political work of the organisation and its effectiveness.

Our fight against the brutal and racist apartheid was informed by our four strategic pillars of struggle.
The period required a rigorous application and continued development of new information and knowledge for us to undertake the struggle in all areas including the battle of ideas.

President Mbeki thus became one of the leading cadres of the movement who epitomised the ANC’s belief in generating ideas and an ongoing dialogue in the spirit of Mao Tse Tung’s call to Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thoughts to contend, the theme of this lecture.

He was one of the cadres entrusted by the leadership collective of President OR Tambo to express the various theses emerging from the hundred schools of thoughts on ANC strands of thinking.

President Mbeki left South Africa and passed through Botswana, then Rhodesia and later Tanzania and accompanied President Kenneth Kaunda to London, where he stayed and worked with President Tambo and Dr Yusuf Dadoo.

He studied at Sussex University for his bachelor’s and later master’s degree in economics.

He became actively involved in student politics in London, leading to brushes with the law at times.

This is also the period during which he developed his legendary love of Shakespeare and the poet Yeats among others!

After completing his master’s degree he was granted permission to go to Moscow in the then Soviet Union for his military training, in 1969.

In 1971 he left London with President Tambo for Lusaka, where he was to serve in many critical roles in the organisation.

He joined the secretariat of the Revolutionary Council. During that period he visited Botswana many times to link the ANC with structures inside the country.

Later the ANC established the Politico-Military Council which combined the military and political machinery.

This was a product of the recommendation which was made by a special commission set up by the NEC to address how we could change the structure of the revolutionary council to reflect the approach that politics was to give leadership to all aspects of our struggle.

This special commission was chaired by President Tambo. Other members were Moses Mabhida, Joe Modise, Joe Slovo and of course Thabo Mbeki. It was formed in 1978, following an ANC visit to Vietnam.

In these structures, President Mbeki continued to play a role of pushing the boundaries of our intellectual understanding and knowledge of the political world of struggle.

His trustworthy position in the ANC President’s Office, allowed him to become not only an administrator in the day to day running of the office, it also provided an opportunity for him to advise on certain matters sent to him by the President.

He drafted speeches for President Tambo as well as policy documents and other content material for the organisation.

As Comrade Mbeki continued to exhibit his capabilities to the ANC leadership, he was entrusted with other positions such as that of director of international affairs.

He ran an effective international campaign, bringing the attention of the world to the historical injustices faced by black South Africans and those fighting for economic, political and social justice.

President Mbeki was also given the task of nurturing internal resistance and liaison with internal structures.

He served as an emissary on behalf of the ANC in especially our movement’s relationship with the Inkatha movement.

He was also instrumental in recruiting many black consciousness movement adherents into the ANC before and after the June 16, 1976 uprisings.

A selfless cadre, President Mbeki served the ANC in Swaziland as head of the machinery undertaking underground work and later in Nigeria as chief representative of the ANC.

When he became head of information and publicity in 1985, he played a key role in promoting ANC strategies and tactics and profiling the ANC internationally.

He created greater acceptance of the ANC as an organisation abroad.

He also became a focal point for the interface between the ANC and Afrikaner intelligentsia and other interest groups in South Africa, which served to demystify the organisation amongst whites inside the country.

Between 1987 and 1990, Comrades Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and Aziz Pahad, and later joined by Joe Nhlanhla, were assigned by President Tambo to begin exploratory talks with the apartheid regime, in England and Switzerland.

Around the same time, President Mandela and Kobie Coetzee were also holding secret talks inside the country while Madiba was still in prison.

President Mbeki played a key role in the drafting of the Harare Declaration, working closely with President Tambo.

After the unbanning of organisations and the release of President Mandela and other stalwarts from prison, the ANC began re-organising itself as a legal organisation inside the country.

The movement held its first elective conference inside the country after unbanning in 1991, at which President Mandela was elected ANC President, Oliver Tambo elected as national chairperson. When President Tambo passed away, comrade Mbeki took over as national chairperson of the ANC.

At the national conference of the ANC in 1994, comrade Mbeki was elected the Deputy President of the ANC.

After the first national general elections in 1994, he was appointed by President Mandela as Deputy President of the country.

Towards the end of his term, President Mandela began handing over many tasks of shaping government to then Deputy President Mbeki.

By the time he took office in June 1999 as President of the Republic, President Mbeki was ready to take forward the national reconciliation project with a focus on expanding the economy and deepening democratic transformation through policies including black economic empowerment.

He was also to drive better performance on the part of the state.

The democratically elected administrations led by Presidents Mandela and later Mbeki focused on addressing historical injustices and creating new institutions to facilitate the building of a democratic society based on the principles of non-racialism and non-sexism.

Substantial progress was made in the areas of accountability, political stability, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, building the integrity and legitimacy of the state, and the rule of law.

A progressive Constitution was adopted, which included a Bill of rights and Chapter 9 institutions to strengthen and protect constitutional democracy and human rights.

Concrete steps were taken to overhaul the legislative framework upon which institutionalised racial discrimination was based.

During the first ten years of democracy, 789 laws or amendments aimed at reconfiguring South African society were approved by Parliament.

The dismantling of the legal framework of apartheid and the transformation of many state institutions led to the visible improvement of the socio-economic conditions of millions of people.

Under President Mbeki’s leadership, the ANC government managed competing interests within the economy to ensure economic growth and macro-economic stability on the one hand, while developing a systematic expansion of social protection for vulnerable citizens on the other.

The success of the ANC government’s comprehensive social protection programme is undeniable.

It includes extensive income support programmes such as social grants, access to free education and primary health care for the poorest and the provision of free basic services to indigent members of our society.

The foundation of a caring state was thus built.

Under the leadership of President Mbeki, the ANC and its government also put in place new institutional arrangements and structures to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

One of the achievements was the introduction of a new regulatory environment to enable the private sector to reverse the legacy of racial discrimination.

As a result, ANC government policies such as black economic empowerment and affirmative action have contributed to the growth of South Africa`s black middle class, which numbered around 2.6 million by 2007.

In addition, small business support was streamlined and expanded.

President Mbeki championed black economic empowerment and the rise of the black professional class and intelligentsia, which was and remains necessary as part of transforming South African society.

Comrades and friends,

Indeed the achievements scored by the ANC during the past 18 years are undeniable.

Our 2009 election manifesto eloquently outlined the strides our country had made in governance under the capable leadership of Presidents Mandela and Mbeki.

It was fifteen years of nation building, reconciliation and democratisation.

We built the foundation of a new society by enshrining the basic human and democratic rights of all in the country’s constitution; building the institutions of our democracy and ensured citizen’s participation in decision-making processes that affected their lives.

It was 15 years of advancing worker rights.

The workers have benefited from the passing of progressive labour legislation and introduction of social security benefits.

It was 15 years of struggle for gender-equality. Thirty percent of all our parliamentarians, provincial legislature members and councillors were women and 43% were in Cabinet by 2009 when President Mbeki left office.

Opportunities for women to access basic services and social, economic and political opportunities were actively promoted.

It was 15 years of peace and stability, which brought to an end to the decades of political violence under apartheid.

It was 15 years of re-building the economy; pushing back the frontiers of poverty; and improving the quality of life for millions.

The country became more cohesive and we collectively celebrated achievements in sport, arts and culture. South Africa was awarded rights to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

We became the Rugby World Champions twice, African Soccer Champions in 1996, the Angling World Champions and world class Paralympians in 2008.

Our international responsibilities and recognition grew. The ANC government strengthened the country’s role in peace, reconstruction, development and integration, especially in Southern Africa and the African continent.

Our membership of the United Nations Security Council provided opportunities to promote peace. Strategic partnerships with major countries of the South (China, India and Brazil) were strengthened.

President Mbeki’s involvement in the ANC’s international affairs and his work in many African countries had opened his eyes to the ugly legacy of colonialism, of poverty, underdevelopment and poor governance.

It is not surprising therefore that the African Renaissance became the central tenet of the country’s foreign policy outlook under his leadership, with a focus on ending poverty and underdevelopment in the continent.

However, he resisted attempts to cast South Africa as hegemonic in this continent and positioning it as one among the sovereign equals.

The better Africa and a better world that we now speak of is a cumulative input on the foundation laid by President Thabo Mbeki.

Through the African Union, the New Africa Initiative and later the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, President Mbeki and his counterparts such as former President Obasanjo of Nigeria, President Bouteflika of Algeria, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Abdulaye Wade of Senegal led a concerted process of reviving institutions of governance and accountability in this continent.

The leaders became an important core of the OAU and later the AU.

Much more important is the fact that President Mbeki is still involved in the continent, and played a very important role in the birth of the Africa’s 53rd state, the South Sudan.

In this regard and on behalf of the entire nation I would like to congratulate President Thabo Mbeki for being named "African of the Year" for his "persistent and consistent" efforts to avert war between Sudan and South Sudan.

The award, was announced at the fifth annual meeting of the African Media Leaders Forum in Dakar yesterday.

Perhaps President Mbeki’s primary contribution, in the realm of promoting the blooming of a hundred flowers and schools of thought, is his speech, I am an African, in the mould of Pixley ka Seme’s 1906 masterpiece “The Regeneration of Africa”.

Both celebrate our African identity and postulate a new beginning for Africa, calling for a total psychological liberation for the African masses in the continent and everywhere.


The ANC in 2009 sought to continue and improve on its record of the previous 15 years, using the resolutions taken at its 52nd national conference in Polokwane as a baseline.

The fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment was to continue, with the creation of decent work being the centre of our economic policies.

The Mid-Term Review of 2012 that assessed performance against the 12 priority Outcomes of government and the more recent results of Census 2011 indicate where our efforts have yielded results and where we still confront challenges.

The results continue to be encouraging.

Just over a week ago, Census 2011 revealed a significant increase in the proportion of households which have access to piped water, with the percentage increasing from 60.7% in 1996 to 62.3% in 2001 and 73.4% in 2011.

Households that use electricity for lighting increased from 70.2% in 2001 to 84.7% in 2011, while households that use electricity for cooking increased from 52,2% - just over half – to 73.9% or nearly three-quarters over the same period.

A Mid-Term review also indicated progress in many areas. Among dramatic progress is in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The review indicated that the number of people living with HIV had stabilized. There has been a 50 percent reduction in mother-to-child transmission from 8% in 2008 to 3.5% in 2011, thus protecting more than 30 000 babies per annum from infection

Further, about 20 million people have tested for HIV since voluntary testing was launched in 2010, while 1.7 million are on antiretroviral therapy. The life expectancy of our people has increased dramatically as a result of all these interventions that were launched in 2009.

More importantly, we have achieved a strong societal partnership against AIDS, embodied in the South African National AIDS Council.

These organisations outside of government have an equal claim to the success we have scored in the fight against AIDS.

Comrades and friends,

The ANC government continues to prioritise good governance. In 1994, we took over from an unpopular, corrupt, unaccountable, secretive and alienated administration.

We could not use the apartheid administration as a benchmark.

Thus we developed ethical standards and practices that subsequently became entrenched in our Constitution, in the operational plans of government and, lately, in the framework of performance monitoring and evaluation that we introduced in 2009.

Under President Mbeki’s leadership government introduced new instruments to promote sound financial management in government, including the Public Finance Management Act.

In addition the fight against corruption was institutionalized by the ANC government through the creation of instruments such as the Special Investigating Unit and various anti-corruption agencies in government departments.

In addition, our own insistence on ethical, clean and efficient government dovetails with the existing oversight mechanisms by Parliament, the judiciary, Chapter 9 institutions, the non-governmental sector and society in general.

Therefore, thanks to the ANC, the fight against corruption has become a buzzword in the country, bringing together society as a whole against this scourge.


Taking forward the legacy of President Mandela and President Mbeki, we want to change the landscape of the country. We are spending eight hundred and forty four billion rand on infrastructure projects countrywide over the next three years.

Already hospitals are being refurbished, mud schools are being replaced by modern schools. Coordination in all three spheres of government will enable a seamless management of both longstanding and new infrastructure projects.

All these developments are powerful indicators of a simple but often unstated or understated truth.

That is: fundamentally, South Africa has become a better place in which to live or invest with each passing day and year since April 27, 1994.

We say this not in arrogance, but out of respect for the millions of South Africans from all walks of life who are contributing each day to making this a better society and more productive economy.

We admit that our challenges are many and persistent, but they do not overshadow the fact that each new day brings forward possibilities of a better South Africa.

We admit as well that the performance of the State must be improved further.

Simple projects such as delivering textbooks on time have been a problem for this administration for more than a decade and we need to get it right.

In the State of the Nation Address of 1999, President Mandela spoke out strongly about this gross inefficiency;

He said; “Last year, we made the observation that it was inexcusable that text-books were not supplied within seven days of the beginning of the school-term: Many areas did meet this target.

“However, many did not. We hope that this year the planning and funding will be settled earlier in the year.

“For, if this does not happen after the pressured experiences of last year; if our administrations are unable to carry out such a straight-forward project; then in the coming year, ordinary citizens like myself, will feel justified in calling, so to speak, for heads to roll!’’

In August 2008 President Mbeki launched the Public Administration Leadership and Management Academy.

Such institutions should assist us in improving the performance of the public service.

We believe that the institution of the performance monitoring and evaluation mechanism is a step forward in that regard.

Another innovative measure is the National Development Plan Vision 2030, which for the first time enables long-term planning for the country.

Comrades and friends,

In paying tribute to our very internationalist 11th President, we will also continue our contribution in strengthening the African Union and all its organs, and take forward the programs promoting economic growth and development in the continent.

We will continue ensuring that Africa continues to have a strong voice in international forums such as the G20, World Economic Forum and many others.

We will continue speaking out about the transformation of the United Nations Security Council, the international financial institutions and all bodies that control the world economy and politics without the participation of Africa.

We will also continue the ANC’s focus as anti-imperialist organization, supporting the people of Western Sahara and also the people of Cuba as they fight to end the economic blockade against their country.


As we move closer to ending the centenary year we also acknowledge all sectors of society that support us in our work.

The ANC is wiser due to working with the faith-based sector, business, labour, women, youth, the country’s intelligentsia and traditional leaders and many other formations in the quest for a better life.

Comrades and friends,

Distinguished guests,

Regardless of the circumstances of his departure from office, President Thabo Mbeki’s record as an exceptional and distinguished cadre and leader of the ANC remains deeply etched in our history.

What defined him most as a loyal cadre of the organization and true patriot was his conduct during the difficult and devastating period of his recall from office.

He accepted the decision of the ANC NEC. Like a true statesman, he put the country first above personal considerations.

He stepped aside in a dignified manner, allowing a smooth transition to take place in government to the presidency of Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe.

He said; "I have been a loyal member of the African National Congress for 52 years. I remain a member of the ANC and therefore respect its decisions.

"It is for this reason that I have taken the decision to resign as President of the Republic, following the decision of the National Executive Committee of the ANC.

"I would like sincerely to thank the nation and the ANC for having given me the opportunity to serve in public office during the last 14 years as the Deputy President and President of South Africa".
In closing, allow me to revisit – with a true sense of achievement of our glorious movement in 100 years, the closing stanza of President Mbeki`s I Am An African address.

He said;

“Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say – nothing can stop us now!”.

I thank you.