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Johannesburg - Former president Thabo Mbeki remains an excellent leader regardless of the circumstances under which he left office, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.
“He accepted the decision of the ANC NEC. Like a true statesman, he put the country first above personal considerations,” Zuma said at the party's centenary lecture honouring Mbeki.
“He stepped aside in a dignified manner, allowing a smooth transition to take place in government to the presidency of comrade Kgalema Motlanthe.”
Mbeki did not attend the lecture. His spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga said he was busy with the Sudans issue.
Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as president of the country in June 1999.
After almost two terms in office Mbeki tendered his resignation in 2008, following the ANC's decision to recall him. This was after he was defeated by Zuma at the party's elective conference in Polokwane.
Zuma was addressing a large crowd at the Sauer Park Stadium in Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape.
This was part of the ANC's centenary celebrations. Each month is dedicated to a former president of the party.
Zuma quoted Mbeki from the time he was recalled: “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.”
Zuma said Mbeki distinguished himself in the ANC as a cadre and as a leader.
“Today we reflect on the legacy of our 11th ANC president. A committed cadre, comrade, leader and son of the ANC,” Zuma said.
“For me personally he was a friend and a brother for many years.”
Zuma and Mbeki had served on many structures of the ANC together.
Mbeki had played a critical role in the life of the African National Congress, and contributed immensely from the period of 1990 during negotiations for transformation, he said.
“President Mbeki became one of the leading cadres of the movement that epitomised the ANC's beliefs.”
Before he started his address Zuma led the crowd in singing “somlandela uMbeki yonke indawo” (we shall follow Mbeki everywhere).
Many in the marquee at the stadium danced and showed two fingers, signifying a second term for Zuma.
The ANC holds its elective conference in Mangaung in December. - Sapa