Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: elusive economic transformer

2017-12-03 06:00
ANC NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the ANC policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre. Photo:Leon Sadiki/ Citypress

ANC NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the ANC policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre. Photo:Leon Sadiki/ Citypress

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This contender has assumed a combative stance in her bid to win people over and effect her land reform policies, writes Hlengiwe Nhlabathi.

‘Ufuna ngithini, Hlengiwe; ngitshele ke wena, ufuna ngithini? (What do you want me to say, Hlengiwe; tell me, then, what is it that you want me to say?)”

This is the telling-off, in refined isiZulu, that I received from ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, one of the frontrunners in the race for the ANC presidency. With a sigh, she had assumed the tone of an irritated mother scolding her child for challenging her authority.

For a moment, you could almost hear a pin drop. Then one of the many struggle songs being played continued blaring through the sound system inside the massive venue, which was being rapidly vacated. We were at Nasrec Expo Centre, southern Johannesburg, attending the ANC’s heated national policy conference.

It was Wednesday, July 5, and the gathering had just been officially closed by President Jacob Zuma.

So, here I was, in the middle of a misunderstanding with Dlamini-Zuma, who had now grown impatient. There was no chance for me to clarify my question.

Barely a second passed before an entourage of her fellow ANC Women’s League members, who keep a tight rein on her, shut down our conversation with an affectionate yet firm “uMama”.

She was whisked away to greet a crowd of waiting admirers, cameras at the ready to record their moment with the former African Union Commission chair.

Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma (68) – mother of four, a doctor by profession and a former anti-apartheid activist – has garnered both accolades and criticism over the years. During her term as health minister at the dawn of South Africa’s democracy, she signed off on a policy banning public smoking and advertising, and clinched a controversial deal with the Cubans which cemented an exchange programme for student doctors.

A seasoned politician, she has thrown herself into campaigning for the top post, going through the usual motions of greeting her audience, and chatting and smiling with them.

Our misunderstanding those five months before concerned a question about her candidacy. Unwilling to engage a prying journalist, she assumed a defensive stance.

The demeaning, sexist identification of her as the president’s “ex-wife” by some media and certain members of the public may have hardened her attitude to the point of hostility.

Those close to Dlamini-Zuma describe her as a highly intelligent woman who thinks critically about the space she needs to assume in the political realm and adds value to discussions about any issue.

“This is what made her successful in all her previous portfolios,” says an insider.

The source goes on to liken Dlamini-Zuma to an army general who takes her work seriously and wants prompt results. “She wants things to be done now, not tomorrow.”

She is also known to “improve” the speeches drafted for her at the last minute.

ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte describes her comrade as “a leader who can unlock the great potential that the country has”.

“The time has come for a leader who does not talk too much, who implements big and talks little,” says Duarte.

In defending Dlamini-Zuma’s decision to keep the Zuma surname, Duarte says many other women have done the same. “Let’s not accuse people falsely,” she admonishes.

At this point, it is anyone’s guess who will take over the ANC presidency. Mpumalanga premier and ANC provincial chairperson David Mabuza has been touted as the kingmaker at this month’s upcoming elective conference, set to start in 13 days’ time, as he has refused to reveal who he will back for the leadership position.

Mabuza appears as deputy president on Dlamini-Zuma’s slate, but has remained mum about whether he endorses this, or her. It appears to be part of a broader tactical strategy on his part to unite the party.

Two weeks ago, at an ANC Women’s League rally at KwaMhlanga, outside Pretoria, Dlamini-Zuma spoke frankly about being associated as an appendage to the president, castigating her critics.

In a rare interview with Sunday Independent about the matter, she said: “They are dishonest and they know it. They have never used it against me, even when I was minister of home affairs. Zuma appointed me and they said nothing. I went to [the AU Commission headquarters in] Addis Ababa and nothing was said. They only raise it now when it suits them.

“When I got divorced, it was important for me to keep my children’s identity. They stayed with the Zuma surname. They wanted to abandon it, but I wouldn’t allow it. I have kept that surname for the past 20 years and I won’t change it.”


These words were uttered during Dlamini-Zuma’s first campaign visit to Mpumalanga. She looked radiant in her colourful beaded Ndebele blanket and matching headgear.

The crowd at Solomon Mahlangu Stadium in KwaMhlanga cheered excitedly. They wore T-shirts bearing her name and the slogan, “RET [radical economic transformation]: Now or Never”.

The woman of the moment reached for her bag, applied lipstick and moisturised her hands before taking to the podium, where she would later dance alongside Kelly Khumalo to songs praising her as the incoming president.

The speech she delivered here was more urgent as Dlamini-Zuma highlighted the need for equal participation in the economy.

This, she said, would entail uplifting co-operatives and ensuring they operated in international markets; establishing black-owned banks that would be more receptive to the plight of black people; creating black industrialists; bringing free higher education on board, creating jobs and speeding up land redistribution and land reform.

So moved was one woman in her green shirt, tears began streaming down her cheeks.

Dlamini-Zuma pledged her willingness to work with her opponents, expressing the hope that winners and losers at the elective conference would work together to build a united ANC.

While ANC provincial leaders attended the event and sang her praises, the premier was markedly absent.


Born in KwaZulu-Natal on January 27 1949, Dlamini-Zuma was the eldest of eight children who witnessed her parents, Willibrod Gweva and Rose Dlamini, make sacrifices to offer better prospects for their children. Her father sold some of his livestock to ensure that his children, and other youngsters in the community, got an education.

Dlamini-Zuma has spoken fondly of her father’s prioritising education. He considered it an equalising force, particularly for young girls. And so, she attended Amanzimtoti’s prestigious Adams College, one of the country’s first training institutions where Africans could attain a proper education during apartheid. It has produced four ANC presidents.

Dlamini-Zuma maintains that her tough upbringing and experiences fighting apartheid, as well as her political longevity, have prepared her for the gruelling presidency race.

“One of the challenges I have encountered in this campaign is the media onslaught. They are taking sides and so they are campaigning against me. But these are challenges that half of the nation faces. These, however, are not the determining factors of who should become president because the branches have to decide,” she has said.

Dlamini-Zuma’s obvious discomfort with the media has made it near-impossible to pin her down for a chat, even for 20 minutes.

Over the past few days, repeated requests by this journalist for an interview elicited responses ranging from Dlamini-Zuma cancelling a confirmed appointment at the last minute on the grounds of being “too busy with ANC work”, to her team asking for questions to be forwarded to her office in advance.

During her terms serving in the health, foreign affairs and home affairs ministries, Dlamini-Zuma was far more accommodating, though still firm, often making the effort to interact with members of the fourth estate.

In contrast, during this race for the presidency, Dlamini-Zuma has made it a point to keep her distance from the media, except where she is treated with kid gloves. As the pressure to emerge victorious has mounted, she has shown herself to be somewhat combative and often ready to defend herself.

She sticks firmly to her mandate, speaking at length about white monopoly capital, radical economic transformation and land restitution.

Ironically, while vehemently opposing being associated with the president, she has been the contender who has picked up most strongly on the topics Zuma began proposing last year.

Anything else in her campaign is taken as a mere deflection from the “important” issues.


Despite talk of Dlamini-Zuma being a decoy temporarily holding the fort for a unity candidate in the name of Zweli Mkhize, she and her team continue targeting communities on the ground.

And, now that the heat is on, she is investing as heavily in wooing branch delegates who have the power to swing their votes.

Read more on:    nkosa­zana dlamini-zuma

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