Mr Mbeki, president of the ruling party, has come out of the shadows in the past three weeks. On the campaign trail he has emerged not as the dark prince many feared but as a man open to dialogue who will get things done.
Mr Mbeki is expected to provide a change of style more than of substance. Gone will be the emphasis on the South African "rainbow", loaded with powerful symbols of black-white reconciliation, like President Mandela sporting a Springbok jersey during the rugby world cup.
Mr Mbeki, whose wife, Zanele, is a development economist, is an intellectual said to despise populist politics and has a vision for an African renaissance.
He was born in the rural Transkei area into a communist family who sacrificed much for the struggle against apartheid. His father, Govan Mbeki, spent more than 30 years in jail. His sister was detained on spurious grounds. His youngest brother and his only son disappeared.
Many South Africans, even though they love President Mandela, believe it is time for him to go. In Mr Mbeki they see a man to provide tougher and more focused leadership.