Former president Thabo Mbeki played a central role in selling the ANC to the rest of the world during apartheid, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.
"Due to this early international relation efforts it was not surprising that the African Renaissance became the central tenet of the country's foreign policy outlook under Mbeki's presidency," Zuma said at the party's centenary lecture honouring the former president.
"The better Africa and a better world that we now speak of is a cumulative input on the foundation laid by President Thabo Mbeki."
Zuma said Mbeki with other leaders of Africa through the African Union, the New Africa Initiative and later the New Partnership for Africa's Development led a concerted process of reviving institutions of governance and accountability in Africa.
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.
Mbeki did not attend the lecture. His spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga said he was busy with the Sudans issue.
Zuma said Mbeki was one of the ANC's early political and military thinkers and strategists, who worked closely with the then leadership against the apartheid regime.
"He was a perfectly trained cadre … in military combat work," said Zuma. He paid tribute to Mbeki's history in the ANC at the side of former organisation presidents such as Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela.
In ending his address Zuma touched on Mbeki's last days as president and his recall. 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 said what defined Mbeki most as a loyal cadre of the ANC and "true patriot" was his conduct during his recall from office. "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," said Zuma.
"He accepted the decision of the ANC NEC. Like a true statesman, he put the country first above personal considerations." Zuma then quoted Mbeki's final words when he resigned from office.
He also hailed Mbeki as a committed ANC cadre, leader, friend and brother. Before he started his address Zuma led the crowd in singing "somlandela uMbeki yonke indawo" [we shall follow Mbeki everywhere].
In introducing Zuma, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told the crowd that the ANC claimed Mbeki for itself. "Others want to claim him, let's demystify this. He does not belong to a few." Mantashe said Zuma was the most suited to deliver the Mbeki lecture.
Earlier in the day during a rally in Lady Grey, Zuma said the ANC was 100 years old and would not carry the aims of just a few. He said the ANC carried the interests of the nation not a few people.
The ANC was an organisation with structures that adhered to serious political discipline with an emphasis on discipline. "There would be consequences for ill discipline," he said. The day however belonged to Mbeki who was an outstanding son of the ANC and South Africa, said Zuma. – Sapa