Dlamini-Zuma: AU’s first woman boss wears victory lightly (Profile)

July 16th, 2012 - 9:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Addis Ababa, July 16 (IANS) Sporting maroon headgear and an embroidered traditional African kitenge (gown), Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the African Union’s first woman executive head and an anti-apartheid icon, wears her victory lightly as she walks around the swish corridors of the Chinese-built new AU headquarters.

In a tightly-contested election that went well past Sunday midnight, the 63-year-old Dlamini-Zuma broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first woman head of the AU Commission, the 54-nation AU’s principal decision-making body. She beat the incumbent Jean Ping, a former foreign minister of Gabon who helmed the AU for close to four years.

But Dlamini-Zuma is not the kind to be swept away by this hard-won victory, earned amid fierce lobbying in the run-up to the election.

Known for her stern looks and reticence, Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of South Africa President Jacob Zuma, was quick to put aside partisan politics as she pitched for African unity after her victory became public.

“I am not an Anglophone, I’m a Zulu,” she said in her first few remarks Monday after winning the election as she was seen to be a candidate representing the English-speaking southern Africa. She made it clear that she would be “implementing programmes… agreed upon by everybody” rather than “consulting the Anglophone and the Francophone”.

This kind of statesmanship can be expected from a woman known as South Africa’s iron lady and an anti-apartheid activist who has held key ministerial positions in every South African government since Nelson Mandela became the first black president in 1994.

A paedtrician by training, Mandela chose Dlamini-Zuma as his health minister (1994-1999). She showed exemplary initiative in
transforming the country’s health system by introducing legislation that provided the poor access to free basic health care. She, however, got much bad press and made headlines when an HIV drug she championed proved to be a fraud.

Subsequently, she served as foreign minister of South Africa for almost a decade under presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Molanthe and became the widely-recognized international face of South Africa’s rising global stature. Zuma chose her as home minister despite standing in as Mbeki’s running mate for the African National Congress (ANC) presidency in 2007, a clear sign of her indispensability to South African governments.

In a statement, the African National Congress said Monday that while “she will be lost to the South African government. she will be assuming a higher calling - serving the entire African continent”.

Born January 27, 1949, in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, Dlamini-Zuma, the eldest of eight children, studied at the University of Natal and British universities in Bristol and Liverpool. She went into exile in the 1970s and vigorously participated in the underground anti-apartheid crusade as a youth activist.

She married Zuma in 1982, becoming his third wife while working as a paediatrician at a Swaziland hospital and divorced in 1998.

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