Cabinet reshuffle: Zuma thinks of comeback for Dlamini-Zuma

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma speaking during a press conference as head of the African Union (AU) Commission. (Simon Maina, AFP)
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma speaking during a press conference as head of the African Union (AU) Commission. (Simon Maina, AFP)

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma is considering appointing his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to his cabinet when she steps down as chair of the African Union Commission, easing her path to succeeding him as national leader, government officials said.

The move would bolster Dlamini-Zuma’s profile and chances of replacing Zuma as leader of the ruling African National Congress at a conference in December, according to two deputy ministers and an ANC official, who declined to be identified because they’re not authorised to comment. Zuma told state-owned Motsweding FM radio last week the ANC is ready for a female leader and the job won’t automatically go to his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, the other front-runner for the top post. Dlamini-Zuma steps down as AU chair on January 27.

Dlamini-Zuma, 67, and Zuma, 74, were divorced in 1998 and have four children together. Dlamini-Zuma rallied to Zuma’s defense after some ANC leaders called for his ouster at a National Executive Committee meeting in November, following his implication in a series of scandals. Whoever wins the presidency of the ruling party would be a strong favorite to succeed Zuma as South Africa’s leader after elections in 2019, given the party has won every election since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Zuma’s spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga wasn’t immediately available to comment. Calls to Wynne Musabayana, the AU’s head of communications didn’t connect, and she didn’t immediately answer an e-mail seeking comment.

Central role

“She has been out of the country, which means that she hasn’t played a very central role in South African politics,” Nic Borain, a political analyst who advises BNP Paribas Securities South Africa, said by phone from Cape Town on Monday. “Those running her campaign, and it’s widely speculated that Jacob Zuma is backing her, would probably try and move her into a more central role in politics before the party’s elective conference.”

While Dlamini-Zuma hasn’t formally declared her candidacy, she has said she’s willing to serve if asked to. She appeared to be in campaign mode on Jan. 8 when she joined the ANC’s top six leaders during a walkabout at a rally commemorating the party’s 105th anniversary in Soweto, near Johannesburg.

Zuma’s successor will inherit a party plagued by infighting and hemorrhaging support - it had its worst-ever electoral showing in a municipal vote in August and lost control of several key cities, including Pretoria, the capital, and the economic hub of Johannesburg. The party’s woes have been widely blamed on the president, who’s been implicated in a succession of scandals, including a finding by the nation’s top court that he broke his oath of office by refusing to repay taxpayer money spent on his private home.

Graft charges

Zuma has also been trying to fend off a lawsuit filed by the main opposition Democratic Alliance aimed at forcing prosecutors to reinstate 783 graft charges against him that were dropped weeks before he became president in 2009 and if he is convicted, his best option for staying out of jail may be to secure a presidential pardon.

Dlamini-Zuma graduated as a doctor from the University of Bristol in 1978, and held several medical posts in the UK and Swaziland after going into exile during white minority rule. When apartheid ended in 1994, Mandela appointed her as his health minister. While she was lauded for extending access to health care to the black minority, she came under fire for squandering millions of rand of state funds on an ineffectual Aids education play.

Dlamini-Zuma was named foreign minister after former president Thabo Mbeki took office in 1999, a post she held for a decade. Her tenure was marred by her support for President Robert Mugabe in neighbouring Zimbabwe, who was accused by Western governments of stealing elections and violently suppressing the opposition. In 1999, Dlamini-Zuma was reassigned to the home affairs ministry and was lauded for overseeing a successful overhaul of the system of issuing identity documents, passports and birth certificates.

She was elected chairwoman of the AU Commission in July 2012, after seeing off a re-election bid by Gabon’s Jean Ping. While she declined to stand for a second term, her tenure was extended by six months last year after AU members failed to agree on a successor.

“It would be massively beneficial for her campaign to have her go back into government because she could get a position that would push her into the limelight,” Susan Booysen, politics professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance, said by phone from Johannesburg.

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