Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is Africa′s new first lady | Africa | DW | 16.07.2012
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Africa

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is Africa's new first lady

Former South African minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the new head of the African Union Commission, one of the most powerful positions on the continent. She's a formidable figure, known for her zeal and determination.

In her moment of triumph, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma remained humble: "South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution", she told reporters after her election to the post of AU chairperson.

Modesty is a virtue not commonly associated with the new AU boss, who is often described as a hard-working politician who pursues her political and personal goals with zeal and determination. Born into a large family of eight brothers and sisters in a rural village to the south of Durban in 1949, Dlamini-Zuma graduated in zoology at the University of Zululand. During her studies, she became an activist with the African National Congress, which was banned at the time. In 1976, she fled to exile in the UK where she continued her studie, obtaining a degree in medicine at the University of Bristol.

South Africa's Iron Lady

It was there that she married South Africa's current president Jacob Zuma. The couple divorced in 1997.

A hall packed with delegates during the AU summit (picture by EPA)

Analysts hope that Dlamini-Zuma will help to move the AU forward

After the end of apartheid, she returned home to become minister of health. Dubbed South Africa's "Iron Lady" by the international media, Dlamini-Zuma earned herself a reputation as an uncompromising politician. In the face of soaring HIV infection rates, she opened up South Africa to deliveries of generic drugs from countries such as India and Brazil, despite strong criticism from international pharmaceutical companies. She also pushed through one of the strongest anti-smoking laws in the world.

She was appointed foreign minister in 1999. "She became known as a hard-working minister who travelled the length and breadth of Africa to promote closer relations between South Africa and the rest of the world", says DW's Subry Govender in Johannesburg.

"Strong administrator"

South African president Jacob Zuma in a suit behind a conference table, talking to the president of Congo-Brazzaville (picture by EPA).

Jacob Zuma (l.) supported his ex-wife's candidacy.

Dlamini-Zuma served as a minister under all of South Africa's four post-apartheid presidents, Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and incumbent Jacob Zuma.

At the AU summit in Addis Ababa in January 2012, Dlamini-Zuma made her first bid for the post of AU chairman, running against incumbent Jean Ping. After three ballots, she pulled out of the race. The vote was postponed to the AU summit last weekend.

Analysts hope that now she has secured the continent's top job, she will use her zeal and determination to move the African Union forward. "There is no doubt that she will bring significant capabilities to the African Union as a strong administrator, as somebody who understands African politics", the head of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Jackie Cilliers, told DW.

A friendly welcome

African heads of state similarly welcomed her election. "She is a freedom fighter, not a bureaucrat," Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni told the AFP news agency.

Even her former husband, South Africa's president Jacob Zuma, wished her well. "It means a lot for Africa...for the continent and for the empowerment of women," he said

Author: Daniel Pelz (with additional material from Subry Govender and AFP)
Editor: Mark Caldwell

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