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Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma: Will she lead?

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma whose tenure as chairperson of the African Union expired last month has intimidating credential going into political contest to rule South Africa from 2019 after Jacob Zuma, but there are issues to resolve, writes Jamie…

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has emerged as the clear front-runner in the unofficial (yet basically happening) campaign for party presidency set to take place at the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference in December 2017. Clinching this title could see her elected as the president of South Africa in 2019. Even with the backing of prominent figures, an illustrious political career and her recent tenure as the head of the African Union (AU), many still refer to Dlamini-Zuma using the shorthand, Jacob Zuma’s ex- wife. With the description comes the omen that the cloud of corruption hanging over Zuma’s presidency will follow Dlamini-Zuma into hers if she succeeds him. Maybe it’s time to also let the woman stand on her own credentials or maybe the writing is already on the wall.

Dlamini-Zuma was born in 1949 in Bulwer, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal’s midlands region. Like many people of colour at the time (and now) she picked up the baton of activism at a young age. She embarked on her medical degree at the University of Natal and completed it in the United Kingdom (UK) at the University of Bristol after she was exiled as a result of her role in the anti-apartheid struggle. While in Bristol, Dlamini-Zuma served as the Chairperson of the ANC Youth Section in Great Britain between 1977 and 1978. She also played an instrumental role in the underground structures of the ANC in exile.

When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, Dlamini-Zuma had already served as a doctor in Swaziland where she met Zuma. Upon her re- turn to South Africa, she played an integral role in setting up the party’s structures. And when democracy was achieved in 1994, Dlamini-Zuma served as the Minister of Health until 1999. Most notably, during her service she spearheaded free healthcare for the poor, specifically for pregnant women and children under six years of age, drastically reducing the rate of maternal mortality. Under Dlamini-Zuma, the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed, legalising abortion. She also spearheaded anti-smoking legislation in public areas and oversaw the construction of 500 new clinics.

It was during this time that Dlamini-Zuma also had her first notable brush with scandal. The musical Sarafina 2, funded by the health department, led to controversy because of its unclear messaging on HIV/AIDS. Further questions arose around the exorbitant amount of money used to produce the musical. What stood out most, however, was the lack of accountability after these questions were raised – a theme still looming in South African politics today.

Dlamini-Zuma went on to occupy the seat of Foreign Affairs Minister from 1999 to 2009 where she sought to unite the African continent. She was again redeployed in 2009 to the seat of Home Affairs Minister before she was elected as the chairperson of the African Union in 2012, a position she held until the end of January this year. Her success or failure in the role has been debated. “During her tenure, Africa confront- ed Ebola in West Africa; Yellow Fever in parts of southern Africa; climate change and food security challenges around the Sahel and Horn of Africa, plus an international migration crisis,” writes former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Nigeria, Chidi Anselm Odinkalu. “On each and all of these challenges, Dlamini-Zuma was out to lunch or blissfully missing in action.”
Dlamini-Zuma was accused of using the platform to campaign for the presidency in South Africa instead of focusing her efforts on continental progress.

“Whether she is a woman or not, my view is that she was a complete disaster as AU chair. At exactly the moment that Africa needed to rise to the occasion with huge crises, she stepped down,” Eyewitness News quoted University of London professor Steven Chen as saying.

Her tough stance on the United States President Donald Trump’s controversial Muslim ban has been applauded. “The very country to which many of our people were taken as slaves during the transatlantic slave trade has now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries,” Dlamini-Zuma was quoted as saying after the ban took effect.

However, she also addressed the likelihood that Trump’s administration would hinder global progress on climate change, stating that Africa should counter this by establishing the planned continental free trade area this year. Yet, when she made an appearance at a church in South Africa’s West Rand in early February, Dlamini-Zuma seemed to back- track on climate change, stating: “We mustn’t listen to those who say we must only use renewable energy.” She added that no developed country uses only renewable energy, there must be a mix.

Her own politics aside, there is one other factor that could bar her from South Africa’s presidency: woman- hood. Although South Africa boasts one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, it’s not yet been internalised by the majority. This became apparent when earlier this month Xhosa Prince Xhanti Sigcawu supported his brother King Mphen-dulo’s claims that a woman would be too “delicate” to lead in a role that has puzzled even men.

“The King said he wonders, with women’s vulnerability, will she be able to handle the role? Men have been struggling with the job. It’s a question that we need to ask. This was not directed purely at Dlamini-Zuma, it’s to all women,” South African media quoted Sigcawu as saying.

Dlamini-Zuma does have the back- ing of the country’s current president, with talks that she will occupy the position of Finance Minister, replacing Pravin Gordhan, ahead of her presidential race. The position has been dogged by controversy as it’s directly linked to allegations of State capture and the looting of the country’s treasury. Gordhan is seen as a guard be- tween South Africa’s economy and a corrupt government.

Political Analyst Somadoda Fikeni warned against the move: “She is coming at a time of great financial difficulty and at a time of financial strain, where you have to cut here and there, and you have to listen to rating agencies and the business sector, the very issue which may complicate a candidate who is supposed to drive radical transformation.”

Her greatest backers are by far the ANC’s Women’s League who continue to name her as the only member of the ANC fit for the job despite calls from the top brass to hold off on the campaign until later in the year.

“It is her unparalleled experience in the continental and global politics that have strengthened the resolve of the African National Congress Wom-en’s League that South Africa with its strategic role in global politics will be better served by a comrade of Nkosazana Dlamini – Zuma’s stature,” said Meokgo Matuba, ANCWL Secretary General.

Also in the unofficial running are Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who is backed by trade union federation Cosatu; Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, South Africa’s current minis- ter of science and technology; Lindiwe Nonceba Sisulu, member of parliament and a member of the national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC; and the Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete.

Whoever does dare to step up will inherit a party plagued by factional- ism while it steadily loses support to opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters. The last municipal vote in August revealed the worst result the ruling party had seen since it took power in 1994. This downfall has largely been blamed on president Zuma’s implication in successive scandals, so much so that his support of Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy is seen as a hindrance.

“Jacob Zuma is a hugely weakened leader because it has been under his leadership that the vote for the ANC has been declining,” political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki told Eyewitness News.

“Leaders are fighting among themselves, the ANC has no solution to reverse the loss of confidence by the electorate.”

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