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Nkosazana Dlamini-zuma, for­mer chair, African Union Com­mis­sion

Be­ing backed by her for­mer hus­band is a dou­ble-edged sword, but the for­mer min­is­ter and AU Com­mis­sion chair rates her chances of be­com­ing ANC pres­i­dent this year and the party’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in 2019

Snow­fall on the dis­tant moun­tains in Le­sotho brought a veil of rain, turn­ing the roads in this Kwazulu-na­tal vil­lage to mud. It was the first cold snap of win­ter, but the bit­ing weather did not de­ter crowds flock­ing to the lo­cal sports field to see the politi­cian who could be­come South Africa’s first wo­man pres­i­dent. Nkosazana Dlamini-zuma was born in a small set­tle­ment a few kilo­me­tres from this vil­lage, near Bul­wer in Kwazulu-na­tal. Some of the crowd knew her when she was grow­ing up, oth­ers just wanted to show sup­port. They were at­tend­ing a cer­e­mony to name a lo­cal author­ity af­ter her. The launch­ing of the Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-zuma Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, a merger be­tween two smaller coun­cils, was a rare ac­co­lade. Only two other African Na­tional Con­gress (ANC) stal­warts – Nel­son Man­dela and Ruth Mom­pati – have had lo­cal author­i­ties named af­ter them. In these parts, Dlamini-zuma is the wo­man of the mo­ment, as the ANC pre­pares for its elec­tive con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber. The odds are cur­rently in her favour. She en­joys the sup­port of her for­mer hus­band, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, and his large grass­roots net­work, which is strong in the ru­ral ar­eas. What­ever the con­tro­ver­sies that sur­round him and the sharp­en­ing ri­val­ries within the gov­ern­ing party, the ben­e­fits of in­cum­bency and his pa­tron­age net­work mean that Zuma still wields con­sid­er­able power. At the launch of the epony­mous mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Dlamini-zuma, sport­ing a thick coat and leather gloves, stepped into the an­kledeep mud around the stage to dance – in that stiff, el­bow-pump­ing style pop­u­larised by Nel­son Man­dela – with the lo­cal choir.


Much im­pressed by these singers, Dlamini-zuma said that record­ing stu­dios should be set up in the vil­lages to in­tro­duce South Africa’s prodi­gious mu­si­cal tal­ent to the world. She talked about ed­u­ca­tion and bet­ter gov­er­nance in her speech but avoided bla­tant campaigning for of­fice, which the ANC’S rules for­bid. Those who shared the plat­for m with her, how­ever, did not hold back. Un­con­strained, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’ s man­ager, Nkosiyezwe Cyprian Vezi, de­clared: “She is one of the seven won­ders of the world, just like our moun­tains here.” The Drak­ens­berg range on the Kwazulu-na­tal and Le­sotho bor­ders is one of South Africa’s seven nat­u­ral won­ders. An ANC mayor from a nearby mu­nic­i­pal­ity said: “When she was fight­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies for cheap medicines, that was rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion.” In­ter­pre­ta­tions of‘ rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion’ vary ac­cord­ing to the speaker’s po­lit­i­cal al­le­giances: whether they are from the camp of the tra­di­tion­al­ist Zuma, or his rival, the more busi­ness-minded deputy pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa. Dlamini-zuma in­sists she sees eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion as about trans­fer­ring power to the grass­roots, a con­stant theme in her speeches. She is ill at ease in Western board­rooms. In April, she spoke at a small busi­ness din­ner in Lon­don or­gan­ised by Rob Hersov, chief ex­ec­u­tive of In­vest Africa. Busi­ness­peo­ple at the din­ner were un­der­whelmed. They com­plained that she had stepped up to the

podium with­out greet­ing them. And she pref­aced her re­marks by say­ing that she would not an­swer any ques­tions on land and on Pres­i­dent Zuma. That all rather de­feated the point of what was meant to be a full and frank ex­change of views. “Most peo­ple stayed, and it was a deadly bor­ing, dreary kind of speech,” said one of the at­ten­dees.


As a min­is­ter, Dlamini-zuma has earned credit for stand­ing up for poor South Africans. As health min­is­ter in the 1990s, she took on the big phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies and forced them to cut prices. Big busi­ness was not im­pressed. That kind of en­mity is a po­lit­i­cal as­set in South Africa to­day. In a min­is­te­rial ca­reer span­ning some 18 years and the port­fo­lios of health, for­eign af­fairs and home af­fairs, she saw in the ban­ning of smok­ing in pub­lic places, the in­tro­duc­tion of free health care for the poor, and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a ground­break­ing peace deal in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC). Un­der her lead­er­ship, home af­fairs got a clean au­dit for the first time in 16 years. Com­pared to many of her ri­vals for high of­fice, her ca­reer has been rel­a­tively scan­dal-free. The worst blem­ishes were early in her ca­reer. Firstly, a play­wright friend of hers was awarded a R13m ($1m) con­tract by the min­istry of health in which bidding pro­ce­dures were ig­nored. The job was to cre­ate an AIDS aware­ness play, Sara­fina II. The play bombed, and ac­tivists said some of its mes­sages were con­fus­ing, if not out­right dan­ger­ous. Seen as a loyal cadre, Dlamini-

As a health min­is­ter un­der fire, Dlamini-zuma was firmly backed by ANC col­leagues

Zuma, who was health min­is­ter at the time, won the back­ing of her fel­low ANC com­rades, and even some kind words from Man­dela. Then came the Viro­dene scan­dal. This was a drug, cham­pi­oned by Dlamini-zuma, which its de­vel­op­ers claimed would cure HIV/ AIDS. But South Africa’s med­i­cal author­i­ties re­fused to run tests on it, and a com­mit­tee from the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria and the Gaut­eng health de­part­ment said it was a toxic in­dus­trial sol­vent. Again, se­nior ANC col­leagues, in­clud­ing then pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki, ral­lied be­hind DlaminiZuma when news emerged that the govern­ment had partly fi­nanced the drug’s devel­op­ment. As for­eign min­is­ter from 1999 to 2009, Dlamini-zuma met fur­ther hos­til­ity for her role in sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Mbeki’s quiet diplo­macy to­wards Zim­babwe’s Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe. And again, as chair­woman of the African Union (AU) Com­mis­sion from 2012 to 2016, Dlamini-zuma’s diplo­matic style came un­der fire. She was ac­cused of stay­ing away from trou­ble spots, avoid­ing war zones and fail­ing to act quickly to help con­tain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa.


Lively and an­i­mated in small groups, Dlamini-zuma’s speechi­fy­ing of­ten plumbed new depths of te­dium, even by the low stan­dards of in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions. Her ar­gu­ment that it should be do­ing more to tackle the root causes of con­flicts – struc­tural in­equal­ity and poor gov­er­nance – was not al­ways well re­ceived at the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s head­quar­ters in Ad­dis Ababa.

Some sus­pected that Dlamini-zuma’s stint at the AU was more about in­ter­nal South African pol­i­tics and her hus­band’s ef­forts to build a for­eign pol­icy legacy than any clear strate­gic aims. Sev­eral big crises – con­flicts in the DRC, Su­dan, South Su­dan and So­ma­lia – con­tin­ued un­abated un­der her watch. Her ef­forts to send an AU peace­keep­ing force to Bu­rundi were com­pre­hen­sively out­ma­noeu­vred by Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza. Her diplo­matic skills had been ques­tioned in the past. When she was named for­eign min­is­ter, then South African op­po­si­tion leader Tony Leon likened her ap­point­ment to “send­ing the bull into the china shop”. How­ever, af­ter years of wran­gling at the AU, she did suc­ceed in per­suad­ing mem­ber gov­ern­ments to agree to a fi­nanc­ing sys­tem that would break the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s chronic de­pen­dence on rich coun­tries’ aid bud­gets. Febe Pot­gi­eter-gqubule, deputy chief of staff to Dlamini-zuma at the AU, says she is “a worka­holic. She mi­cro-man­ages peo­ple, but she then de­liv­ers the goods.” Dlamini-zuma con­sis­tently pushed for women’s rights, adds Pot­gi­eter-gqubule, in all ar­eas of AU busi­ness, in­clud­ing con­flict res­o­lu­tion and re­cruit­ment.


Cer­tainly, parts of the AU’S creak­ing bu­reau­cracy im­proved un­der her watch. She got AU meet­ings to fin­ish and start on time. Her much-pub­li­cised Agenda 2063, a 50-year plan for the con­ti­nent, was more con­tentious: some saw it as vi­sion­ary, oth­ers dis­missed it as vac­u­ous. Un­sur­pris­ingly, given their po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal ties, Pres­i­dent Zuma was one of Dlamini-zuma’s loud­est cheer­lead­ers. “The AU was dys­func­tional, and as South Africa we sent some­one we trust to solve prob­lems, and some­one who knows what the African peo­ple want,” he said. The two re­main ex­tremely close de­spite her de­ci­sion to di­vorce Zuma in 1998 af­ter a 16-year mar­riage. In May, Zuma sat by Dlamini-zuma’s side, giv­ing his bless­ings to her at a Mother’s Day ser­vice at a Catholic church near Bul­wer. Speak­ing in isi-zulu, Zuma praised her as a “veteran leader” whose lead­er­ship skills started from pri­mary school and who is “hon­est and re­spon­si­ble”. You can trust her even when you are asleep, he said. She knows pol­i­tics, he said, and “you can­not fool her”. She knows how to lead, she can­not be bought with money. “I know her per­son­ally, in­side and out. She’s not just a com­rade.” Zuma’s Mother’s Day trib­ute con­tin­ued: “If we can make her [pres­i­dent] in South Africa, the coun­try would change dras­ti­cally. She wants black peo­ple to suc­ceed. Those with big mouths would be amazed,” he said, re­fer­ring to his crit­ics. “She has love. She has tal­ent.” Some claim that Zuma has got his busi­ness friends to finance pub­lic re­la­tions for Dlamini-zuma’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. She has a flashy web­site,

Party groups are run­ning a proxy cam­paign un­der the wo­man pres­i­dent ban­ner

ex­tolling her many achieve­ments and is trav­el­ling around the coun­try speak­ing to ANC branches. More than many of her peers, Dlamini-zuma styles her­self as a party stal­wart, in the tra­di­tion of her ex-hus­band. If Dlamini-zuma has tried to dis­tance her­self from Pres­i­dent Zuma, it has not worked. Many Zu­lus in­sist there is no such thing as di­vorce in their cul­ture. In­sid­ers say it would be in­con­ceiv­able for her to win the pres­i­dency and al­low her hus­band to face pros­e­cu­tion on any of the charges he faces – fam­ily ties would not al­low it. “The chil­dren are close to both of them,” a friend of one of their four daugh­ters says. One story has it that Dlamini-zuma’s chil­dren pleaded with her to turn down the of­fer of the deputy pres­i­dency from Mbeki in 2005. Days ear­lier, Mbeki had sacked Zuma from the po­si­tion be­cause he was fac­ing cor­rup­tion charges. Their youngest daugh­ter, Thuthuk­ile, 28, is as po­lit­i­cal as her par­ents. She was con­tro­ver­sially ap­pointed to se­nior posts by two of Zuma’s min­is­ters. Now Thuthuk­ile is one of her mother’s big­gest cam­paign­ers. In Jan­uary, she posted “A fe­male pres­i­dent” on her Face­book wall as one of her po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions of the year.


In June, the party’s youth and veter­ans’ leagues pro­duced al­most iden­ti­cal lists of can­di­dates for the ANC’S top six lead­er­ship. Dlamini-zuma topped them both. This fol­lowed the ANC Women’s League en­dorse­ment of her pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions in Jan­uary. Two provi nci a l pre miers – Ace Ma­gashule of Free State and David Mabuza from Mpumalanga – were on Dlamini-zuma’s slate of can­di­dates. They both aim to step into na­tional pol­i­tics when their pro­vin­cial terms fin­ish in 2019. To­gether with a third, North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, this group is known as the ‘Premier League’ and so far they back Dlamini-zuma. These party groups, many of which are ar­gu­ing that it is time for a wo­man pres­i­dent, have been run­ning a proxy cam­paign for Dlamini-zuma. She has helped this cam­paign by telling sup­port­ers of

the ANC Women’s League at her farewell din­ner at the AU in Jan­uary: “It’s very im­por­tant for women to be may­ors, to be min­is­ters, to be pres­i­dents, to be every­thing.” Per­haps Dlamini-zuma’s big­gest risk is her ties to her ex-hus­band, whose pop­u­lar­ity is sink­ing as the cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions against him are mount­ing. An enca/ip­sos sur­vey pub­lished in May showed only 18% of vot­ers want Zuma to stay in the pres­i­dency. Reve­la­tions in May from more than 2,000 leaked emails that showed the close ties be­tween govern­ment of­fi­cials and the Gupta brothers – al­ready the sub­ject of a re­port on ‘state cap­ture’ by for­mer pub­lic prose­cu­tor Thuli Madon­sela – have an­gered many more South Africans. Dlamini-zuma’s fail­ure to ex­plain why state reg­u­la­tions were flouted to as­sign VIP po­lice pro­tec­tion to her af­ter her re­turn from the AU post­ing has grated. She also plunged into an­other con­tro­versy when she said that chil­dren in state schools were be­ing taught anti-anc pro­pa­ganda and that these schools should be trans­formed. To many, that is code for be­com­ing less crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ing party. Soon af­ter­wards, there was ou­trage when a tweet ap­peared briefly on her time­line con­demn­ing na­tional demon­stra­tions against Pres­i­dent Zuma as “rub­bish”. She claimed the tweet was fake, but few be­lieved it. Doubt­less Dlamini-zuma’s stock is fall­ing in the eyes of the wider pub­lic, but she has been wildly pop­u­lar in the ANC over the past decade and that is the key fac­tor when it comes to vot­ing for the party’s leader. At the ANC’S elec­tive con­fer­ence in 2012 Dlamini-zuma won more in­di­vid­ual votes than her ex-hus­band. At the fiercely fought elec­tive con­fer­ence in Polok­wane five years ear­lier, she won strong sup­port from both of the rival fac­tions: Mbeki’s and Zuma’s. That is why some ANC of­fi­cials back her as a uni­fy­ing can­di­date, which could be a key qual­ity sought by the nearly 5,000 vot­ing del­e­gates at this year’s con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber.


Dlamini Zuma has a track record as a peace bro­ker: in 2011 she was ap­pointed to re­solve the some­times vi­o­lent dis­putes over the ANC’S can­di­dates for mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil elec­tions. She ac­quit­ted her­self well ac­cord­ing to Edna Molewa, a top of­fi­cial in the ANC Women’s League: “She was never vil­i­fied be­cause of how she com­mu­ni­cated and co­or­di­nated. She re­ally un­der­stood and lis­tened to ev­ery prob­lem. It was in such a way that was re­ally lift­ing peo­ple up, mo­ti­vat­ing them to go ahead.” Other ANC mil­i­tants, such as those among the ANC’S com­mu­nist and trade union al­lies – where there is strong sup­port for Cyril Ramaphosa to be­come the next ANC pres­i­dent – see Dlamini-zuma as a fac­tional choice due to her con­nec­tion with Zuma. Young Com­mu­nist League na­tional sec­re­tary Mluleki Dle­langa says: “Whether you call her an ex or not, it’s still a Zuma. The ANC is not for the Zuma fam­ily but for the peo­ple of South Africa.” Dle­langa adds that Dlamini-zuma lacks the qual­i­ties to unify the party, which had be­come “highly cor­rupted and highly fac­tion­alised”. Those who pushed for a wo­man pres­i­dent were not sin­cere, he con­cludes: “Her name was de­cided by men. It’s not about the women. It’s just a joke from the pol­i­tics of factionalism.” The point about factionalism could prove crit­i­cal in the ANC elec­tions. Voter choices may owe far more to del­e­gates’ ties to a par­tic­u­lar fac­tion rather than the can­di­date’s per­sonal qual­i­ties, still less the can­di­date’s po­lit­i­cal ideas. Carien du Plessis

The #Zu­maleaks emails re­vealed links be­tween Ajay and Atul Gupta (L) and Ja­cob Zuma’s son Duduzane (R)

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