Thabo Mbeki resigns as South Africa’s second democratic president


Former South African President Thabo Mbeki served as Deputy President to Nelson Mandela’s Government of National Unity from 1994 before he eventually became the president in 1999  following his predecessor’s resignation from office. Mbeki occupied the office of the presidency from 1999 till September 2008 following his defeat during 52nd National Conference of the African National Congress(ANC) in Polokwane, Limpopo, on 16 December 2007. On 21 September 2008, Mbeki handed in a resignation letter to the former speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete and announced his resignation as President of South Africa on television nine months before his second term of office expired.

Mbeki’s downfall can be traced to the period between 1997 and 1999 when the ANC changed its economic position, moving away from the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP) favoured by COSATU to the Growth, Employment And Redistribution (GEAR) programme, a move that angered the alliance partners.This was seen as Mbeki’s total disregard of the alliance. In September 2002, Mbeki further publicly lashed out at COSATU and the SACP as ultra-leftists suggesting they should shut up or leave the alliance.

Mbeki’s downfall can also be traced to the moment in 2005 when he relieved Jacob Zuma of his duties as Deputy President due to his implication in the corruption scandal . This caused a split in the ANC between Mbeki’s allies and supporters of Zuma.

At the height of tensions between the factions, Mbeki  once again stood for election as president at the ANC conference in Polokwane in December 2007 but lost to Jacob Zuma, who went on to become the ANC’s presidential candidate in the 2009 general election. The ANC Youth League  played a pivotal role before and after the election putting pressure on Mbeki to step down.

Mbeki’s resignation gained momentum  when Judge Chris Nicholson mentioned when passing verdict in the Zuma trial in September 2008 that the Magistracy had been politically pressured by the Executive power of Mbeki’s cabinet. Consequently, this led the National Executive Committee of the ANC to call for Mbeki's removal as President, making it clear that the ANC no longer trusted the President based on the ruling that implicated him in political interference in the trial.

Mbeki accepted leave of the Presidency on the grounds that the constitution would be respected. After leaving office, Mbeki was appointed as the African Union’s lead negotiator for resolving the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. Amongst other factors mentioned above, the resignation was viewed by many as the consequence of a power struggle between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.


• Mbeki. T., (2008). President Thabo Mbeki`s letter of resignation to Cabinet, on 24 September, from the African National Congress, 24 September [online], Available at  [Accessed 19 February 2010]
• Mbeki, T., (2002), Statement of the President of the ANC, Thabo Mbeki, at the ANC Policy Conference, Kempton Park on 27 September, from the African National Congress, 27 September [online], Available at [Accessed on 11 March 2014]
• South Africa History Online. (2008). President Mbeki's Resignation Address 21 Sept 2008.[online] Available at[Accessed 11 February 2014]
• South Africa History Online. (2008).Life Timeline of Jacob Zuma.[online] Available at[Accessed 10 February 2014]

Last updated : 04-Apr-2014

This article was produced by South African History Online on 14-Mar-2014

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