Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma
MRS. DLAMINI-ZUMA IS NOT A STRANGER TO SOUTH AFRICA’S POLITICS HAVING SERVED IN VARIOUS HIGH PROFILE OFFICES FROM THE DAYS OF THE LIBERATION STRUGGLE TILL THE NEW SOUTH AFRICA WAS BORN. SHE WENT ON TO BECOME THE FIRST WOMAN TO HOLD THE DISTINGUISHED POSITION AS AU CHAIRPERSON EVEN IN ITS PREVIOUS LIFE AS OAU AND NOW THE AU. DON AKPLOR-SPEAR LOOKS AT THE CAREER OF THIS REMARKABLE WOMAN
Born Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini on January 27, 1949 in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, and later to marry President Jacob Zuma which led to her becoming Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma until recently when the marriage was dissolved. But outside that, one can safely say, without any hint of equivocation that she has traversed the rough and rocky terrain of South African politics.
Right from her medical school days at the University of Natal, where her involvement with the anti-apartheid struggle begun, she has acquitted herself very creditably and if there is a known face that the ruling African National Council, ANC, has a known and credible face to put up for elections in 2019, then she must necessarily be the one.
Her political pedigree is not in doubt as she distinguished herself as a very conscious African very determined to see to the end of the then apartheid system that threatened to choke life of the majority African population.
Like most South African anti-apartheid activists she went into exile in Britain in 1976 to continue her studies at the University of Bristol, UK but never forgot the struggle as she served as the Chairperson of the African National Congress’ (ANC) Youth Section between 1977 and 1978.
Completing her studies in 1979 and working as the House Officer, Surgery, Frenchay Hospital, Bristol and the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital, Berkshire she continued her political activism and became Vice-Chairperson of the ANC Regional Political Committee in Great Britain (1978 and 1988) and later Chairperson from 1988 – 1989 she however returned to Africa to be closer to the homeland where the struggle for freedom has intensified.
That commitment saw her working at the Mbabane Government Hospital, Swaziland as Paediatric Medical Officer between 1980 and 1985 and later at the ANC’s Health Department in Lusaka, Zambia between 1989 and 1990.
With the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma returned from exile to play a very pivotal role in building the ANC structures and the African National Congress Women League (ANCWL).
It was in those heady days of setting up the ANC as the only political movement worthy of ruling the country that her true mettle showed. None but the first president Nelson Mandela himself recognised her potentials and therefore made her the first Minister of Health in a democratic South Africa from 1994 to 1999; Foreign Minister from 1999-2009 and Minister of Home Affairs from 2009 when she elected to the African Union Commission in 2012. She was Deputy Chairperson of UNAIDS in 1995 and then became the chair of UNAIDS Board.
Then there is Agenda 2063, Dlamini-Zuma’s flagship policy initiative, which sets out what Africa is going to look like half a century from now, and how it is going to get here. In a rare effort at popular communication, Dlamini-Zuma set out its key points in an informal “e-mail from the future”, written by her to a fictional African citizen in 2063. She outlines her vision of how Africa starts exploiting its own natural resources; how it becomes a pioneer in renewable energy; how kiSwahili replaces colonial languages as the new lingua africanus; how its economies grow and its people become prosperous; and, above all, how the continent unifies and integrates.
“At the beginning of the 21st century, we used to get irritated with foreigners when they treated Africa as one country…! But, the advancing global trend towards regional blocs reminded us that integration and unity is the only way for Africa to leverage its competitive advantage,” she wrote, the exclamation mark suggesting that the Dlamini-Zuma of 2063 may be a little more excitable than her current iteration.
As even her harshest critics – if there are any – will admit that her tenure at the health ministry brought some tumultuous and revolutionary changes to that very vital sector of the country’s social life. For example, Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma, de-segregated the health system and championed the radical health reforms which introduced access to free basic healthcare.
Her abilities made the next president Thabo Mbeki to appoint her Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1999 where again her activism shone through as she actively championed South Africa’s foreign policy which centered on the promotion of human rights, stability, peace, collective development and advancement of this continent.
To her eternal credit, her tenure brought peace and stability to two of Africa’s restless nations – Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo – and also the eventual establishment of the African Union, AU, in 2002. In 2009, she became Minister of Home Affairs where she introduced radical changes resulting in the department achieving a clean audit for the first time in many years in 2011.
In July 2012, Dr. Dlamini Zuma was appointed Chairperson of the AU Commission by the African Heads of State in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia becoming the first woman to lead the continental organization, including its predecessor OAU or the re-christened AU. Simply speaking, she has distinguished herself in all spheres where she has been placed as she has surmounted the obstacles of either virtually creating new institutions or transforming existing ones to be relevant to the new challenges.
According to those who have worked closely with her, Dr. Dlamini Zuma is doing exceptional life’s work to the cause of freedom for the people of South Africa and the development and consolidation of our democracy in the quest to create a better life for all Africans.
According to Anton du Plessis, executive director of the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies her experience over the years has placed her in good stead to handle and manage every institution be it local or international.
“I think her experience and her wisdom are underestimated. She may be widely disliked both within the AU secretariat and by many of the diplomatic community, largely because she has so little charisma, but she would argue that she is not there to be liked. But if you look at what she actually did at the AU, she did get things done in some areas.” That is Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma.
He continued that she also brought professionalism to the bureaucracy that was the AU as for the first time e-mails were answered, the website updated regularly and press releases issued timeously.
“She brought a level of respect for process and respect for professionalism. If she said a meeting starts at nine, then it starts at nine. And so people started taking the AU more seriously because it was behaving like a professional institution,” said Du Plessis.
As others lauded her for bringing efficiency to the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia headquarters of the AU, some resented her approach to work because she had closed all avenues for sloppiness insisting on personally signing off on all travel requests. She enforced the mandatory retirement age, sending over-age staff packing instead of giving them lucrative contracts while strenuously but zealously trying to improve the commission’s gender balance, forcing recruiters to re-advertise positions when they failed to shortlist any female candidates. This hard-nosed approach may, in part, explain why she was so unpopular.
For those who have worked closely with her, she is the epitome of how an organization, especially a multinational organization like the AU should be run.
Under her guidance, issues discussed at the annual conference of heads included previously unheard of topics like gender, human rights and food security.
“She changed the entire environment in Addis and in Africa more generally. She took some of the testosterone out of the discussion on African peace and security issues. She brought not only a gendered perspective, which was important, but a much more holistic developmental approach to Africa’s problems. If you look at how far the AU has come in its debate on African problems, and trying to take more than just a military approach, history will judge her kindly,” concluded Du Plessis.
Added to the above are the serious roles she has played and playing in South Africa’s socio-political sphere. For example she was the only woman in the historic and successful South African 2010 World Cup bid committee led by President Thabo Mbeki to Zurich, Switzerland. That delegation included Nobel Peace Laureates former President Nelson Mandela, former President F. W. de Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu where South Africa won the bid and hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first in Africa.
Not only that. As a founding chairperson of the AU Council aimed at mobilizing resources for the African Union and promoting its programmes, her efforts have been widely recognized with a legend of awards. They include the “Maître de l’Ordre National de la République du Mali” (2002); Peter the Great Award from the Russian Federation; the National Order of Luthuli in Gold from the Republic of South Africa (2013) and “Grand-Officier de l’Ordre National du Bénin” (2014); Honorary doctorates from University of Natal (1995); University of Bristol (1996); University of Transkei (1997); Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA); University of Rome (2013); University of Fort Hare and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (2014). Honorary Professor of the Belarusian State University (2007); The Tobacco Free World Award, World Health Organization (1999); Women Who Make a Difference Award; Women in Film (2002); States Women of the Year Award, Black Business Quarterly Magazine (2004); Renaissance Women of the Year Award (2012); UN S-S Award for Global Leadership (2012); Chairs Award, Black Business Executive Circle (2013); UN Women African Women’s Pioneers Award (2013); the African-America Institute Institutional Legacy Award 2013, STEM Awards – Boaneng and Institution and the African Bridge Builders Award from the US Diaspora African Forum (2014).
However, the biggest question, albeit being whispered in political corners is whether she will make a detour for the leadership of the ANC which will propel her towards the presidency when her former husband’s term is over in 2019.
That thorny question is on everyone’s lips. She has also not helped matters by keeping mum over the subject most especially since her nomination to the governing council of the ANC. Her opponents have bared her teeth at her ambition pretending she has not achieved anything on her own. Many have forgotten the fact that she has held three senior ministerial roles and capped numerous times for her personal achievements, she many prefer to see her as an extension of her embattled ex-husband who she divorced 18 years ago and is fighting for his political life having been accused many times of corruption and has survived at least eight unsuccessful parliamentary attempts to remove him from office.
Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma with four daughters has been a guerilla, a medical doctor, political leader, liberation negotiator, health minister, foreign minister and a home affairs minister and to cap it all the first AU chairperson.
Waiting for President Dlamini-Zuma
When it comes to ability and experience, then one person that delegates to the congress of the ruling African National Congress, ANC, where a new leader will be chosen to lead the party in the 2019 elections, they have a very limited option. It is a clear fight between businessman Cyril Ramaphosa and former African Union chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
Even her worst critics will admit that she is a workaholic and you can only be in her good books if you diligently perform your duties.
“She doesn’t have any problem with a person who does his or her work to their ability,” says the director-general of home affairs of South Africa, Mkuseli Apleni. “She looks like this soft person. But she does put her foot down. If you don’t know your story, unfortunately you don’t know your story. And she will pick that up.”
For Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, a former adviser to Dlamini-Zuma at the AU, says her impatience with sloppiness might explain why there is a perception that she is not good with people. “I think she’s an introvert and shy. But she also likes things done. When things don’t get done, she speaks plainly, which people don’t like.”
Mathatha Tsedu, professor of journalism at Wits explains it diffirently saying her restraint can come across as aloofness or arrogance. “I think her personality is not a bubbly personality. She is a stern and serious person, you know. That’s who she is … It’s not like she is some ogre who never laughs …
“When you sit with her, she’s actually a very good person who worries about serious issues …
Apleni who first worked with her in the department of foreign affairs, in 2000 when she was minister of foreign affairs described his early impression of her as a leader capable of “rallying her troops” behind a vision and went on to describe her management style as “management by guidance” — she gives someone the space to manage their portfolio, provided that they perform. However she can be a difficult nut to crack.
One attribute of her, as explained by Tsedu is that she is not overly ambitious. “I have always found her to be quite principled. If she had been somebody who just wanted a position, she would have accepted [the] requests by Jacob Zuma to become chairperson. She refused and stuck with Thabo Mbeki”
Tsedu says, when he asked her about her decision, she said she had to be able to live with herself.
In her diplomatic work she has much to show and this places her in the forefront of diplomacy and handling of delicate state matters.
She has proved herself adept at conflict resolution which she did successfully in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, crises when Thabo Mkeki was in power
Though that conflict is still simmering she was able at that time to get the warring parties talking which led to a successful election. So that’s one of the successes she’s credited with.
However her previous marriage to outgoing Jacob Zuma is one point being raised against her. They believe that past liaison will make her make compromises for him if some evidence comes up and she has to take harsh action against her ex-husband which some believe she might not be capable of doing.
Though her critics claim she is not a rousing campaigner and not very responsive to the media, she’s extremely clever.
One point that her detractors too have used against her is that she achieved nothing as chairperson of the African Union (AU) Commission forgetting that if nothing at all she was the first person to put the AU on the map.
As Carolus, a former deputy secretary-general of the ANC said, of her that she is very resilient. “I do think that some of the people who are now backing her, sidelined her into the AU job. I think they were hoping for her to die there and she didn’t.”
Uduak Amimo, a current affairs host on Citizen TV, Kenya, buttressed that point when he said she achieved “quite a bit” during her tenure of four-and-a-half years, but that she seemed to have struggled with relationships, “… there are people who think that she didn’t achieve much and I think that just has to do with her management of people, of relationships and perceptions,” she says.
“Having gone to the AU and spoken to a couple of staff both on the record and off the record and having spoken to diplomats, I do think there were achievements — not least getting an agreement on how to fund the AU,” Amimo told HuffPost SA.
This agreement would reduce the AU’s reliance on funding from foreign donors. As Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, former adviser to Dlamini-Zuma and deputy chief of staff of the AU Commission, says of the commitment towards greater self-reliance: “[Dlamini-Zuma’s] issue was: You can’t have a programme and then you go around the world to beg for [funding]. You’ve got to put in the first cent so that people can see you are serious about your own priorities.”
Her Agenda 2063 — a 50-year vision for Africa – is being domesticated by some countries as part of their national development plans.
She can also count among her achievements:
- A vision for the continent that stretches beyond a five-year plan (Agenda 2063).
- A focus on projects that would have a high impact in terms of integration and have spin-off benefits. For example, the launch of the AU passport, the creation of a continental free-trade area to encourage trade between African countries and the creation of a single aviation market.
The AU’s response to the Ebola crisis in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea was a first in the history of the Organisation as she after visiting the three affected countries, established that what was needed most was “boots on the ground”. She asked African heads of state to second health workers and the response was “really overwhelming”.
When the money to keep the 835 African health workers in the field did not come from the United Nations and the World Bank, Potgieter-Gqubule says, Dlamini-Zuma got together African business people who (along with the African Development Bank) pledged $32 million.
“One of the things that we were really proud of is that we didn’t lose a single [African] health worker — not a single one got infected.”
Under her watch, the AU has moved towards a position where member states would fund 100% of operations, 75% of programmes and 25% of peace operations.
She also introduced a gender scorecard which focused on giving women access to land, a policy a number of countries have adopted in addition to increasing the number of professional women working in the AU from less than 15 per cent to 37 per cent including at managerial level.
With the above, many in South Africa and even outside that country are strongly rooting for her to succeed Jacob Zuma.