THABO Mbeki was the natural choice to succeed Nelson Mandela in becoming the second democratic president of South Africa in 1999, following his devotion to the ANC and years spent in exile lobbying anti-apartheid activists to keep up the pressure on the apartheid government.
He was at the centre of the talks with the then government, resulting in the ANC being unbanned in 1990.
He led the ANC delegation that conducted secret talks with the government in 1989 and participated in many important negotiations between the ANC and the government that led to South Africa’s democracy.
After Mandela was elected as the first democratic president of the country, he handpicked Mbeki as his deputy president in 1994.
This saw him assume many of Mandela’s governing responsibilities, paving the way for him to take over the top job after he was elected as president of the ANC at the 50th conference of the ANC in Mafikeng in 1997.
Two years later Mbeki was elected president of the country.
FOR years it commanded headlines and was one of the most controversial deals involving prominent South African figures. Now, more than a decade later, the controversy surrounding the R30-billion arms deal has resurfaced.
While the motives behind the arms deal itself might have been noble, it was the bribery and corruption controversy surrounding the deal that captivated the world’s attention.
The arms deal, approved by cabinet in 1998, was part of the Defence Department’s plans to modernise its defence equipment, which included the purchase of corvettes, submarines, light utility helicopters, lead-in fighter trainers and advanced light fighter aircraft.
But it was so explosive that it led to the dismissal of former deputy president Jacob Zuma, who was being investigated for corruption, and the conviction of businessman Schabir Shaik and former ANC chief whip Tony Yengeni for the kickbacks they received from international companies wanting to supply the arms.
Shaik, who had a tender to supply part of the arms requirements, was found to have facilitated a bribe for Zuma from a French arms company which was part of the deal.
Last year, Zuma revived the matter when he ordered that an extensive commission of inquiry with wide-ranging powers be appointed to finally investigate and bring the more than a decade of controversy to a close.
FOLLOWING in the footsteps of world icon Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki took on the tough task in 1999 of leading the country from the euphoria of democracy and freedom and transforming it into a stable society that would attract investors.
Not only did he have to deal with the economic downturn when the Asian markets crashed, he also had to contend with staggering unemployment and poverty levels as well as crime.
While he was known for his intellectual and academic leadership style, Mbeki received worldwide criticism for what some perceived as a "backward view” on HIV/Aids .
Despite the criticism, Mbeki presided over a growing economy – although still battling uneployment – during his two terms in office.
While his implementation of black economic empowerment saw tremendous growth among the black middle class, it failed to address unemployment amongst the unskilled majority of the population.
But it was his fall-out with Cosatu in 1999 that ultimately led to him losing favour with the masses years down the line.
He refused to meet with trade unions for more than a year and it was the then deputy president, Jacob Zuma, who stepped in and acted as the middle man between the SACP and Cosatu to get their messages to the president.
Because Zuma was seen as more "approachable”, the alliance partners fully backed him in the months leading up to the 2007 Polokwane conference, where Mbeki was ousted as ANC president.