Govan Archibald Mvuyelwa Mbeki (9 July 1910 - 30 August 2001) was a South African politician, and father of Thabo Mbeki, the current President of South Africa.
Govan Mbeki was born in Transkei (Eastern Cape), joined the Africa National Congress (ANC) in 1935, becoming its national chairman in 1956 and later secretary of its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). He joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1961. Like many other activists, Mbeki attended mission schools and studied at the University of Fort Hare, completing a degree in politics and psychology and teaching diploma in 1936. His career as a teacher was, however, short-lived. He got sacked because of his political and trade union activities. In 1938 he moved back to Transkei to devote himself to local politics and writing. In 1943 Mbeki helped draw up a document called African Claims which formed the basis of the freedom charter of 1955.
In 1954 he joined New Age, a liberation newspaper that reflected the conditions black people lived in as well as their aspirations and demands. In November 1962 JB Vorster, then Minister of Justice, banned the newspaper. When the editorial staff launched a new paper, Spark, Vorster banned not only the paper but also its editors and writers, prohibiting them from having anything to do with its creation, printing, or distribution. The result: a cat and mouse game in which papers kept changing their names and the government kept banning them.
Govan Mbeki was arrested in 1963 along with other member of the ANC when police raided a farm in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg. At what is known as the Rivonia trial he was charged with treason and conspiring to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment (along with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, and Andrew Mhlangeni).
In 1977, while he was still in prison on Robben Island, the University of Amsterdam awarded Mbeki an honorary doctorate of social science for his book The Peasant's Revolt which had been published in Britain in 1964 (and banned in South Africa). The book deals with revolt against the government by South Africa's poor peasants and agricultural workers in Zululand and Pondoland between 1956 and 1960.
On 5 November 1987 the South African Nationalist government released Mbeki from Robben Island, hoping this would pave the way for the release of other long-serving political prisoners. But instead of quietly enjoying his freedom, Mbeki resumed working for the ANC. The government restricted him to the city of Port Elizabeth until November 1989. In February 1990 the ban on the ANC was lifted and Mbeki resumed his place on its national committee.
After South Africa's first democratic elections were held, in May 1994, Govan Mbeki was elected Deputy President of the Senate. His quest for a free South Africa had been realised. He retired from politics in 1999. When asked about his son being president, he said: "I feel fine, not because he is my son, but because we have a man in that position to carry on with the work of the ANC and the people of South Africa."
Govan Mbeki died in his sleep on 30 August 2001, at his home in Port Elizabeth, at the age of 91.