Kgalema Motlanthe was born on 19 July 1949 in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, to a working class family. Most of his childhood was spent in Alexandra and much of his adult life was spent in Meadowlands, Soweto. In the 1970s, while working for the Johannesburg City Council, he was recruited into Umkhonto we Sizwe. He formed part of a unit tasked with recruiting comrades for military training. The unit was later instructed to transform its function from recruitment to sabotage. While some members of the unit left the country, he and Stan Nkosi remained in the country to establish such a machinery.
Their unit was also involved in smuggling MK cadres in and out of the country via Swaziland. On 14 April 1976 they were arrested for furthering the aims of the ANC and were kept in detention for 11 months at John Vorster Square in central Johannesburg. In 1977 he was found guilty of three charges under Terrorism Act and sentenced to an effective 10 years imprisonment on Robben Island. After his release in 1987, he was tasked with strengthening the union movement. Motlanthe worked for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in charge of education. Among other things, he was involved in training workers to form shopsteward committees. In 1992 he was elected NUM General Secretary. He was instrumental in negotiating a deal for mineworkers under which their wage increases would be pegged to productivity at a time when the gold price was low, and the industry was closing marginal mines. This deal helped to avert massive retrenchments in the sector. He was involved in the establishment of the Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC), which was wholly owned by the Mineworkers Investment Trust, with seed capital of R3 million. This has proven to be one of the best examples of effective economic empowerment in the country.
During his tenure, NUM established the JB Marks Education Trust, which provided bursaries to mineworkers and their dependants, and a resident trade union school called the Elijah Barayi Memorial Training Centre, located in Yeoville, Johannesburg. He was also involved in establishing the Mineworkers Development Agency, which focused on the developmental needs of ex-mineworkers, their dependants and communities. While in NUM he served on the Miners' International Federation, and was involved in exchange programmes with the United Mineworkers of Australia. When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, he was put in charge of re-establishing the legal structures of the organisation in the PWV region and was elected its first chairperson. He often travelled around the country with Walter Sisulu visiting violence flashpoints.
He was elected unopposed as the Secretary General of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1997 and was re-elected in 2002. Among other things, his responsibilities included the development of party-to-party relations in the region, across the countries of the South, and around the world. In December 2007 he was elected ANC Deputy President at its 52nd National Conference in Polokwane. In July 2008 he was appointed Minister in The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa, and on 25 September 2008 was sworn in as South Africa’s third democratically elected President. "On 11 May 2009 Kgalema Motlanthe was sworn in as Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa"