Mandy Rossouw

Good girls come last

2012-01-25 08:39

My mother is a very tough woman, but you would never know it by looking at her. Soft-spoken and well-mannered, she hides her will of steel behind a smile that never belies what she is really up to.

She picks her battles, knowing which boats are worth rocking and which should be left sailing for a little while longer. She will always try to be diplomatic and take all views into consideration, but don’t let this fool you into thinking she has no mind of her own. When you hear what she really thinks, you know she’s been watching this issue for a long time, heard a lot of views and formed her own opinion.

And once she has arrived at that place, she is unshakable. And if you’re not on her right side, you ought to be scared.
I’ll bet home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s kids say the same about her. If you see the veteran politician in public, she seems perfectly harmless. She speaks quietly and with great humility, always keeping her wits about her and never losing her cool.

But those who are closer to her are very aware that this is only half of who the woman really is. Sometimes called a slave-driver, she put much younger colleagues to shame with her work ethic. One of her protégés in government admitted to me, in a moment of weakness, how Nkosazana regularly drove her to tears. “But the next day she expects you to be at work, move on from that and get the job done.” Today the protégé is one of South Africa’s top government officials.
But more than her colleagues in South Africa, the whole of Africa knows this about Dlamini-Zuma. She learnt from former president Thabo Mbeki how to bring your detractors to their knees by simply being better informed than them, and to spend as much time doing strategic planning as catching up with the myriad of reports that cross your desk.

And this is why South Africa wants her to go to Addis Ababa and be the chairperson of the African Union (AU) commission – a job that is similar to being the CEO of a company or a director general in government. That is where you deal with the nitty-gritty of budgets, laws and the implementation of decisions. That is where you need a bureaucrat par excellence crossed with the consummate diplomat. With her recent successes at home affairs, Dlamini-Zuma is tailor made for the job.
I truly hope that I am wrong, but I don’t think she’ll get it. The feverish lobbying that South Africa has been doing over the last few months was good practice for the future, but as one diplomat said: “You can trust no-one’s word on this continent.”

Diplomacy is so vague that it will look like everyone is on your side, but at no point do you hear a resounding “yes”. Or a resounding “no”  for that matter, making it difficult to know who you can cross off your list and who you still need to persuade.
There is a lot of talk about the influence of outside parties – especially France – on this race. Some dismiss this talk as a way for the South Africans to have someone to blame when they lose, others feel the claims are legitimate but it would be naïve to expect anything different in the reality we live in.
But it is mostly her reputation as a no-nonsense woman that scares the old and entrenched patriarchs that lead our continent. She will ask the hard questions these guys don’t want to answer. “Why haven’t you paid your subscriptions? Why hasn’t you country ratified this law? Why are you disregarding the decisions of the SADC tribunal (that one will go specifically to Robert Mugabe)?

And the worst part of it is, because of her amenable and quiet nature, they will never see it coming. They will not know she’s been researching these topics long before she asked the questions, and it will pop up at the time they expect it the least.
I still hold thumbs for Dlamini-Zuma to take up that seat at the podium of the AU headquarters in Addis, but history has shown us in Africa, good girls come last.

Follow Mandy on twitter: @MandyRossouw

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