Father of South Africa's leader and a revered campaigner in the struggle against apartheid

GOVAN Mbeki, father of Pres-ident Thabo Mbeki and a revered leader of South Africa's struggle against apartheid,

died yesterday at the age of

91. He was one of eight people jailed for life with Nelson Mandela for plotting to overthrow white rule in South Africa's apartheid era.

Mbeki, who spent more than two decades in jail with former president Mandela, died at his home in the city of Port Elizabeth after a long illness.

Best known to younger generations for his relationship to his more famous son, the man affectionately known as Oom Gov, or Uncle Gov, was an intellectual and political leader in his own right.

''South Africa today mourns the passing of one of Africa's great sons,'' Mandela said.

''We salute a comrade and friend, a leader in struggle, one of the intellectuals of our movement and a fellow member of a generation that has given so much to shaping our country.''

In Glasgow, Mbeki's life is memorialised in a building at Caledonian University which bears his name. Earlier this year his son, Thabo, visited the university to dedicate the building to his father.

Govan's forename was a link with Scotland and its Kirk, although he went on to join the communist party. He was called after a Glasgow missionary, William Govan, who set up a school in the Transkei in the nineteenth century.

The Lovedale Institute, the school which William Govan established, provided an education for black children. In 1990 Mbeki was due to visit Glasgow for five days of ''words and music against apartheid'' in Govan's town hall but had to call off because of ill health.

The ruling African National Congress yesterday described Mbeki as a man who brought with him ''the rare qualities of selflessness and utter devotion to the cause of the oppressed and exploited of our country''.

With fists raised and caps lowered, more than 1000 trade union supporters paid tribute to him before marching in protest against the government's privatisation policies in Durban.

The South African and UN flags flew at half-mast over the conference centre in the same city, where a world gathering on racism begins today.

Mbeki was born in the

Nqamakwe district of Transkei - a black ''homeland'' treated by successive white governments as a labour pool for South Africa's developing economy.

The son of a Xhosa chief, he attended mission schools before completing a degree in politics and psychology, as well as a teaching diploma, at the University of Fort Hare in 1936.

He joined the ANC while still a student in 1935. He was

elected national chairman in 1956 and later served as secretary of the high command of the organisation's military wing.

As a young man, Mbeki worked as a teacher and journalist under the oppressive government policies that preceded the creation of the apartheid state in 1948. But his political activities twice led to his


Mbeki and his wife, Epainette, also ran a general store in the Transkei, which

is now part of the Eastern

Cape province.

He spent five months in jail after police opened fire on black protesters in 1960, killing 69 people in Sharpeville, near Johannesburg. A year later, he joined the then outlawed South African Communist Party, but remained a member of the ANC, which was also banned.

Mbeki was arrested again in 1961 and charged under the Explosives Act, spending

several months in solitary

confinement before he was acquitted on a technicality.

Ignoring a house arrest order, he went underground in 1963 and was arrested during a police raid on the headquarters of the ANC's military wing in Rivonia, near Johannesburg.

Alongside Mandela and other ANC leaders, he was tried for sabotage and sent to Robben Island, off the Cape Town coast, to serve a

life sentence.

While in jail, Mbeki completed an economics degree. Holland's University of Amsterdam also awarded him an honorary doctorate for his book, South Africa: The Peasants' Revolt, which was begun on toilet paper and smuggled out of prison.

A fellow-prisoner, Thami Mkhwanazi, recalled that Mbeki never went to film shows, watched television only for the news, and was notorious among the authorities for his uncompromising communist views. But despite this puritanism, he would, at the weekends, strum his guitar and sing Afrikaans folk songs.

He was awarded the ANC's highest honour, the Isithwalandwe award, in absentia in 1980. On his 1987 release, three years before Mandela was freed, he said he had no regrets about the sacrifices he

had made for the struggle against apartheid.

''There was the compensating fulfilment of knowing I was pursuing a course and expressing loyalty to an ideal which ennobled the condition of

man from time immemorial,'' he said.

But he acknowledged he never had much time with his children, sons Thabo, Moeletsi, and Jama, and daughter Linda.

When Govan and Thabo Mbeki met for the first time in decades in 1990 in Lusaka, Zambia, father and son hugged briefly on the airport tarmac and shook hands in a businesslike fashion.

Asked later about his son's ascension to the presidency, Mbeki 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.''

After the 1994 elections, in which Mandela became South Africa's first black president, Mbeki was elected deputy president of the Senate. He later served in parliament's lower house, the National Council of Provinces, and formally retired from politics in March 1999.

In an interview that year, Mbeki said he considered himself lucky to have lived long enough to see the country's liberation struggle bear fruit.

''Very few of us who have been so long in the ANC have lived to experience the changes that have taken place,'' he said. ''I'm happy about that.''