Pretoria - Thoko Didiza isn't originally from Tshwane, but nobody is counting. After a weekend of deliberations by regional and national ANC leaders, a postponed announcement and a shooting, the governing party needed some redemption.
Word was already out on Saturday night that Didiza was the chosen Tshwane candidate following a meeting of the party's national leaders to decide mayoral candidates.
- Read more: Thoko Didiza to be ANC's Tshwane mayoral candidate
Despite being popular and immensely competent, the Durban-born Didiza is regarded as a compromise candidate, someone who stands above the factions in the Tshwane region where fighting over lists saw an ANC member shot. In her 14 years in government, she would have had a residence in Tshwane and would well be able to find her way about the metro and its problems.
At the Luthuli House media conference on Monday morning, where her candidacy was announced, ANC spokesperson Khusela Sangoni felt it necessary to make it clear that Didiza was living in Tshwane and was leading a branch there (she is a branch executive committee member in one of the branches in Pretoria) – although she didn't specify which one.
- Find out how the ANC has fared in previous local government elections in Tshwane.
Didiza's high profile and experience of governance at national level is a demonstration, too, that the ANC was taking local government seriously – as ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte said when announcing Didiza's candidacy on Monday morning.
The party would also need to pull up its socks if it wants to win Tshwane, where even its own polls so far have shown that the ANC would be lucky to make the cut.
Didiza is a bright young star from the Thabo Mbeki era, where she served as a youthful minister in his Cabinet in the agriculture and land, and the public works portfolios. Her political career suffered a setback when she resigned from Cabinet in September 2008, shortly after Mbeki was forced to announce his resignation. She subsequently indicated that she would be available to stay on, but her resignation was never reversed.
She has been fairly quiet politically in the interim. She made a comeback of sorts in 2012 when she was elected to the ANC's national executive committee.
Didiza first became a deputy minister in 1994, when she was barely 29 years old and when young people serving in government wasn't as politically fashionable as it is now.
She is again immensely popular in the party and was among the top 20 candidate MPs on the ANC's list for Parliament in 2014 – but together with former speaker Max Sisulu was one of only two amongst that top 20 who didn't make it to Cabinet that year. Sisulu resigned, Didiza stayed on to become House chairperson in the National Assembly. Business Day on Monday reported she wasn't happy about the pay cut should she become the city's mayor.
Some in the party have been keen to return Didiza, who turned 51 earlier this month, to prominence. Her name was mooted as a possible replacement for Stone Sizani when he resigned as chief whip earlier this year, and even as a possible Speaker should Baleka Mbete be redeployed.
NGO, religious organisation background
She holds a BA degree in sociology and politics (2003), an Honours degree in politics (2007), and a diploma in journalism from Birnam Business College (1991), amongst a number of other diplomas.
Didiza comes from an NGO and religious organisation background.
According to a profile on a government website, Didiza worked as programme officer for Diakonia Council of Churches' Social Action Network unit from 1987 to 1989, and after that as a co-ordinator of the National Youth Programme at the South African Council of World Affiliated Young Women's Christian Association until 1993, followed by a year's stint as national deputy general secretary at the same organisation.
She also worked as treasurer for the Natal Women's Organisation in 1986, and for the South African Council of Churches in various positions in 1987 to 1993.
Didiza has experience in gender work, as associate member of the Women's Development Bank in 1991 and National General Secretary of the Women's National Coalition from 1992 to 1994.
She was selected to be part of the World Economic Forum's Forum of Young Global Leaders in 2005, a community which includes the world's "most outstanding, next-generation leaders".
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