Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has long been in the forefront of South African politics, working in every administration since 1994 and currently serving as chairwoman of the African Union. She has been a major player on both the domestic and international stage for decades, and was integral in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. As her ex husband, President Jacob Zuma faces calls for his resignation over multiple scandals, Dlamini-Zuma’s name has come up time and again as a possible future leader.
In 1971, Dlamini-Zuma began her studies at the University of Zululand, studying Zoology and Botany. She earned a bachelor’s degree in science in 1971, then went on to the University of Natal for medical studies.
Dlamini-Zuma became the deputy president of the South African Students Organization, an underground group that worked as the student arm of the Black Consciousness Movement inspired by Steve Biko. She ended up completing her medical degree at the University of Bristol in the U.K. in 1978 after fleeing South Africa.
Dlamini-Zuma met Jacob Zuma in Swaziland in the 1970s while both were living there in exile. She became his second wife when they married in 1972, and went on to have four children. They divorced in 1998, but remained on good terms, and continued to work together through several administrations.
During the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations in 1992, Dlamini-Zuma served an important role as a part of the Gender Advisory Committee. After Nelson Mandela was elected president in the country’s first democratic election in 1994, he appointed her Minister of Health in his cabinet.
Dlamini-Zuma was extremely focused on advancing AIDS education and access to treatment in South Africa. She was criticized for some of her decisions regarding the AIDS crisis in South Africa – namely supporting the anti-AIDS drug, Virodene, which was cheaper than other options but deemed ineffective by many in the scientific community. She made it illegal for anyone to smoke in public places with the Tobacco Products Control Bill in 1999.
During her tenure as Minister of Health, Dlamini-Zuma focused on desegregating the system and introducing access to free basic healthcare for all South Africans.
While serving as the minister of foreign affairs in former President Mbeki’s cabinet, she was offered the position of deputy president after Jacob Zuma was fired. After speaking with her children, however, Dlamini-Zuma declined the offer, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka became deputy president instead.
After being appointed minister of home affairs by President Zuma in 2009, Dlamini-Zuma sought radical change in the department. She earned a clean audit in 2011 – the first in many years. She is credited with reforming a department previously mired in bureaucracy and corruption for over a decade.
In 2012, Dlamini-Zuma ran against the incumbent Jean Ping to become the first chairwoman of the African Union. She received 60 percent of the vote after a drawn-out election, and promised to try to unify a continent that voted largely along francophone vs. anglophone lines.
Dlamini-Zuma has announced that she will not seek re-election. This decision has fueled rumors that she is seeking a different position – that of South African president. Nominations for an A.U. replacement have opened again after countries failed to elect a replacement for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at July’s summit in Kigali, Rwanda. Countries have until the end of September to formally nominate candidates for the position of A.U. chairperson and deputy.
Source: Daily Maverick
If Dlamini-Zuma does make a bid for party leadership of the ANC, there are several issues she’ll face. The ANC has not had a female leader in its 104 years of existence, and gender prejudice still exists. Many party big shots want a clean break with Zuma’s scandal-filled administration, and a former cabinet member and ex-wife may give many voters pause.
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa will be Dlamini-Zuma’s main rival in a bid for leadership of the ANC. Ramaphosa is a business tycoon and former trade unionist, and has already been second-in-command of the ANC. However he too will be seen as a candidate who is extremely close to Zuma.