Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: SA's iron lady

2012-07-16 12:03

Johannesburg - Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran of the fight against apartheid who has served in the cabinet of every South African president since Nelson Mandela, now takes the top African Union job.

Elected by the 54-member pan-African bloc in Ethiopia on Sunday, she becomes the first woman to head the AU Commission.

An experienced diplomat, Dlamini-Zuma, 63, is known for her competent management and stern personality.

A doctor by training, she was health minister when Mandela became the country's first black leader.

'Quiet diplomacy'

She went on to be foreign minister for a decade, earning praise for her shuttle diplomacy to end the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But her critics found fault with her "quiet diplomacy" towards neighbour Zimbabwe, during a crisis that saw President Robert Mugabe evict thousands of white farmers from their land in 2000.

Her former husband President Jacob Zuma then named her home affairs minister.

Although that was seen as a demotion, she won plaudits for turning around a ministry mired in gross mismanagement to achieve the first clean audit in 16 years.

In her campaign to win the pan-African bloc's top job, she vowed to work at making it "a more efficient and effective organisation".

And while she may have defeated the incumbent, French-speaker Jean Ping of Gabon, she has refused to be labelled as an English-speaking candidate.

"I am not Anglophone, I'm Zulu," she said.

Once she got to work in the post, she added, she would be "implementing programmes... agreed upon by everybody" rather than "consulting the Anglophone and the Francophone".

Dlamini-Zuma has the backing of the predominantly English-speaking southern African region and is the first person from the region to hold the top Commission job since the AU was created a decade ago.

Unsmiling demeanour

"She takes her work very seriously," said Prince Mashele, an analyst at the Centre for Politics and Research, who worked with Dlamini-Zuma's ministry when she was foreign minister.

"She has the rare quality of putting up very good administrators," Mashele added.

But she has raised eyebrows with her unsmiling demeanour.

"I thought she could do better if she was a little more affable," said Mashele.

Born 27 January 1949 in KwaZulu-Natal, Dlamini-Zuma took up politics in high school.

In the 1970s she went into exile, and studied in Britain at the universities of Bristol and Liverpool, while helping organise the anti-apartheid movement overseas.

She met Zuma while working as a paediatrician at a Swaziland hospital and became the polygamist president's third wife in 1982. They divorced in 1998.

When the ban on the African National Congress was lifted in 1990, she returned home.

Astute politician

After the first democratic elections she was tapped by Mandela to transform the country's segregated health system.

She is remembered for introducing legislation that overhauled the highly unequal system and gave the poor access to free basic care.

But she was also criticised for championing a controversial HIV drug that was later proved to be ineffective.

When Zuma fell out with ex-president Thabo Mbeki and moved to oust him as ANC leader in 2007, she stood as Mbeki's running mate for the ANC presidency.

But when Zuma won party polls and later become president, he kept his ex-wife in his cabinet - a rare Mbeki ally to avoid the axe.

"She is an astute politician, a veteran, the experience she acquired as foreign minister puts her in good stead to take over this role" at the AU, said Keith Gottschalk of the University of the Western Cape.

  • deirdre.maule - 2012-07-16 12:36

    And what will she be ironing??

      clifford.sithole.5 - 2012-07-16 13:10

      My Wife can iron much better than her..

      helmut.smrz - 2012-07-16 15:14

      Magret Thatcher's clothing

  • jacqui.daanevanrensburg - 2012-07-16 12:53

    Consulting the Anglophone and Francophone!!!! I wish her strength.

  • victor.windsor - 2012-07-16 12:53

    who does she iron for ?????

  • tseliso.molukanele - 2012-07-16 13:04

    big ups Mrs Dlamini-Zuma. As always you will do us proud!

  • mbambo.shi - 2012-07-16 13:06

    Ever since she left the Spear's Kraal, she's only going up all the way. She must take-off her last surname to sustain that.

  • honest.mrwebo - 2012-07-16 13:13

    A well deserved oppoertunity to a deserving Mother Africa , Well Done !!

  • geraldsebanda - 2012-07-16 13:30

    SA industry is built on iron and steel industry. She irons and he steels

  • smalefane - 2012-07-16 14:23

    As always, whites on this forum have nothing good to say about Africans.

      geraldsebanda - 2012-07-16 14:34

      always blacks must make it a race issue when it is actually a competent issue

      smalefane - 2012-07-16 14:58

      @gerald...did u read through the comments? How many raised the issue of Nkosazana being competent? Your comment as well was also void.

      deirdre.maule - 2012-07-16 15:58

      The irony of that is she's already mucked up, yet you can't see the iron for steel!

      denise.ryan.5203 - 2012-07-16 16:55

      ...when incompetence sticks like sh*t to a woolen blanket:-D

      denise.ryan.5203 - 2012-07-16 17:18

      In her former position as Minister of Health, officials found her impossible to work with. This continued in the Foreign Affairs department and within months her staff were utterly demoralized. The black and white staff commented that it actually brought them together, because they suffered the same constant humiliation under Dlamini-Zuma. She kept desk officers in the dark, disregarded her briefs and insisted on arranging and re-arranging her own flights (at once stage 27 times in one week). After disregarding her briefs, she would complain that she was not properly briefed on certain issues; she would telephone officials at ridiculous hours of the night with bizarre requests, micro managed her department that all postings and promotions come through her, causing long delays and vacancies in foreign postings, etc... Even senior cadres did not last long under her. Everyone who could flee her department did so. Results were obviously disastrous.

      denise.ryan.5203 - 2012-07-16 17:23

      In 2001 when Dlamini-Zuma visited that Communist Utopia in the Caribbean, Cuba, she was in awe and praise of this one party dictatorship with its well known human rights abuse record saying, “You will be surprised how democratic it is”. When journalists read her a recent report by Human Rights Watch detailing the lack of a free press and a multi-party system along with a long list of human-rights abuses in Cuba, her response was, “Who is Human Rights Watch?” When the journalists answered that HRW campaigned against Apartheid, she said: “They were not our sponsors.” (SA Brave New World, pg 342-343). Just like she did with the Health Ministry under her watch, she turned the Foreign Affairs Ministry into joke almost overnight. Based on her track record, Dlamini-Zuma’s appointment to the AU Chair will have exactly the same results. History will be our witness.

  • peter.fraser.92754 - 2012-07-16 14:40

    Iron lady...who she gonna nail ?

  • popeye.sailor.1884 - 2012-07-16 20:10

    Boggom !

  • john.s.stalwart - 2012-07-16 21:01

    Only if Mbeki was succeeded by this woman South Africa would have been a land of milk and honey,she really has what it takes,congratulations Ms Dlamini-Zuma,you deserve it given your intelligence, God bles thee...

  • Godide - 2012-07-16 21:16

    Credit given where it is due.Congra maDlamini Zuma

      Andre - 2012-07-17 12:59

      Madame Zuma's credentials: Department of Health: If you should have any doubt about the honesty of medical doctor madame zuma, please read: She was also the inventor of the garlic and beetroot hocus-pocus and pushed her witchdoctor’s knowledge into the pockets of her drunken friend Manto. She invited hero Mbeki’s to Sarafina costing the taxpayers +R 14million. She puts this moron’s head full with aids-denial causing hundreds of thousand of aids related deaths. Not chickens but human beings. Department of Foreign affairs: To hide her incompetence, intellectual Mbeki replaced her to foreign affairs where she opened the South African borders for the destitute African refugees, Chinese and other communists around the world bringing the economy of South Africa to its knees. Department of internal affairs: Her last and most detrimental job!!! Removed the little work available for the unskilled South African workers and pushing them into crime to survive while she could play the compassionate Queen for all immigrants, legal and illegal. By now, not only the economy is in shambles but the unskilled workforce in South Africa too. Service into all government departments comes to a stand still, money becomes as scares as chicken teeth and South Africa is on the verge of collapse. Poor Africa.

  • mabona.sinethemba - 2012-10-08 11:58

    lord bless her she is one of the woman i look up to she is my role model, i love this woman she is a true leader..

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