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Presidential Library Planned for Former South African President Thabo Mbeki

“Thabo Mbeki built a library so large and so complex only he could navigate it,” writes author Stacy Hardy in A Brief History of Presidential Libraries. 

She writes of Mbeki’s ability to carry his books in his head, a library as “reliable as the great archives of France, the United Kingdom and Russia.”

Former South African President Mbeki’s presidential library will be constructed in three phases: the first is a miniature library in the Kgorong Building at Unisa Muckleneuk campus. The second phase involves the Unisa main library and is expected to open next year. The third phase will be the establishment of a facility to house the expanded library and museum.

This week, reporters were shown around a “prototype” of the library on the first floor of the Kgorong building on Unisa’s main campus.

Buhle Mbambo-Thata, the executive director and curator of the Thabo Mbeki Presidential Library, or TMPL, said: “TMPL [which she pronounced “temple”] is not a shrine for Thabo Mbeki but a place for us to share ideas, a living library to preserve the presence of the man.”

Mbambo-Thata said the library was launched in September to commemorate heritage month and to celebrate Steve Bantu Biko.

“This is where he can tell his story.”

Mbeki’s presidency was marked by HIV and AIDS denial, neoliberal economic policies and his “quiet diplomacy” on Zimbabwe. With the establishment of the library, Mbeki wishes to place his political work within a larger context.

Mbambo-Thata said: “We want to provide a space to reflect on the processes and realities which have created the conditions where Africa is today and to be able to confront the question: Where should Africa be tomorrow?”

Mbeki himself was not at the event Tuesday, but Zanele, his wife of 40 years, showed reporters round the room, where cabinets with mementoes from their life together, had been set up.


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