D-Zuma rising

2012-07-19 00:00

AS South African diplomat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma prepares to take over her responsibilities as the new and first woman leader of the African Union Commission, back home the reaction has been somewhat bitter-sweet.

Since her name was first put forward for the post, commentators have expressed fear that the former foreign affairs minister was being sacrificed for political expediency at the altar of the African Union, arguing that South Africa is losing one of the few hardworking, effective ministers in our current administration.

Initially I agreed with the armchair critics. But then, after the dramatic sweep she made over the weekend, I started to believe that perhaps it’s a temporary setback, and one we need.

In fact, South Africans should rejoice we have Dlamini-Zuma there, where she’ll be sharpening her tried leadership skills on the continental stage.

I believe we are probably grooming our future president.

Sometimes for good athletes to make a giant, gold medal-winning leap, they must first take a few steps back.

For the past few months, maybe years, we have been watching Dlamini-Zuma as she took those steps with her eyes firmly fixed on the big one — the ANC and nation’s presidency come 2019.

Mark my words. We shouldn’t lie to ourselves and think that Dlamini-Zuma doesn’t have aspirations to become the president of the country.

Actually, if former President Thabo Mbeki’s master plan had worked out in 2007, Dlamini-Zuma would have been one of the heads of state who gathered there this past weekend, instead of preparing to don the hat of the AU Commission chair in Addis Ababa.

Mbeki’s plan was primarily about saving his political career. The former president wanted to run for a third term as the leader of both the ANC and the country. But the Constitution wouldn’t allow him to, although he could have gotten away with amending the ANC’s constitution, effectively rendering what was referred to in debates as “two centres of power”.

So when ANC lists were punted prior to Polokwane, Mbeki ensured that he only had his trusted lieutenants to help him take on Jacob Zuma, Dlamini-Zuma’s ex. He chose Dlamini-Zuma and government’s head of policy, Joel Netshitenzhe, to be his possible party deputies. Netshitenzhe declined, leaving Dlamini-Zuma as a possible Mbeki deputy in the ANC.

As the ANC president, Mbeki would have had the powers to appoint his own successor to run the country, allowing him to rule via remote control from Luthuli House.

When Dlamini-Zuma was lobbied, including by the ANC Women’s League, she felt the country was indeed ready for a woman president, and that woman president was herself.

And to make her intentions clear and ensure that she silently rolled with Mbeki’s plan, she declined the ANC chairperson nomination, but accepted that of deputy president.

But as we know, she was one of many of the Mbeki-ites who were defeated. Kgalema Motlanthe pipped her to become Zuma’s deputy president. But when most of Mbeki’s men and women walked away, some forming Cope, she remained to become one of the best ministers we’ve ever had. And she fought from within. She turned around the dysfunctional Home Affairs department into one of the best-run.

Dlamini-Zuma is a seasoned diplomat and a tried-and-tested politician. She carried the country’s foreign policy when she ran the Department of Foreign Affairs for 10 years. And she did fairly well when she was the minister of health. She has served the country in various capacities with excellence and dedication.

I personally don’t doubt her capabilities. Actually I’d put her in the league of Nelson Mandela, the kind of leader currently lacking and needed in South Africa — and indeed the continent.

Just like the AU, our country is in all sorts of messes and needs a decisive leader, someone who can steer it in the right direction.

Like the continent, our country right now needs a unifier, someone who can help put together the building blocks of a prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist society, as envisaged by Mandela.

The less said about the current leadership, the better. They don’t inspire confidence and have so far failed dismally.

Even if Zuma is toppled in Mangaung, it already looks like we’ll continue on this dark trajectory with the new leadership. The next leader will still have a faction that propelled him to victory looking for a payback — the same way President Zuma is acting.

I really don’t see us having that in Dlamini-Zuma — not in large proportions, at least.

South Africans may feel they are losing a capable leader. I say let her go. South Africa is not short of leaders capable of taking over where she left off, as International Relations spokesperson Clayson Monyela said this week.

We may have lost a jewel to the AU for now, but we are definitely going to win back a true, well-polished leader — possibly the country’s president when her term ends after 2017.

• Isaac Mangena is a journalist and aspiring writer.

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