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.
SUCCESSES AND SCANDALS
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.
STRUGGLES AT THE AU
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.
“SHE HAS TALENT”
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.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
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.
CLAIMS OF FACTIONALISM
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)