Tough, efficient South African elected head of the African Union


Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma is a competent manager with a stern personality, writes BILL CORCORANin Cape Town

NKOSAZANA DLAMINI-ZUMA’S tenure as the African Union’s new chairwoman will be characterised by accountability and efficiency, supporters of the South African home affairs minister said following her election victory on Sunday.

South Africa’s international affairs and co-operation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said her colleague, who has served in every government since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, would make sure the AU’s resolutions were implemented in full.

“What should change [with her election] . . . is that there will be more accountability, there will be more fast-tracking of implementations of decisions taken by the heads of state,” she said.

“That means spending more time on implementation of our resolutions instead of just creating more and more [resolutions].”

A priority for Dlamini-Zuma in her new role, she added, would be to “strengthen Africa’s early-warning systems, strengthen its democracy, its rule of law and unity”.

Dlamini-Zuma’s defeat of the AU’s incumbent chairman, French-speaking Jean Ping of Gabon, has been hailed as a victory for women as well as for English-speaking countries across the continent.

Dlamini-Zuma (63) is the first woman, and the first candidate from the Southern African Development Community, to hold the post since the AU commission was established.

She is an experienced diplomat, and a doctor by training, and was married to South African president Jacob Zuma until 1998. She is known to be a competent manager with a stern personality.

Dlamini-Zuma served as health minister when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black leader.

She was foreign affairs minister for a decade after that and most recently has turned around the home affairs ministry, which was in disarray.

The one major blot on her foreign affairs career was her refusal to dispense with her “quiet diplomacy” approach to dealing with Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s land reform policy, which led to thousands of white farmers being thrown off their land.

However, says Keith Gottschalk of the University of the Western Cape, “she is an astute politician, a veteran; the experience she acquired as foreign minister puts her in good stead to take over this role”.

Dlamini-Zuma’s victory over Ping was by no means a foregone conclusion, and it took eight months of intense behind- the-scenes lobbying and two separate elections to secure the 60 per cent majority she needed.

On Sunday, she received 37 votes from the AU’s 54 member states after several rounds of voting.

A significant number of countries within the AU had contested South Africa’s decision to put Dlamini-Zuma forward as a candidate because of a long- standing agreement between members that the organisation should not be led by one of the continent’s major powers.

A vote at an AU summit in January ended in stalemate, with the continent’s French-speaking bloc of states mostly backing Ping and its English-speaking members siding with the South African candidate.

Following the deadlock, a number of countries called on South Africa to withdraw, saying that the situation was undermining the main business of the AU, namely to increase trade and improve security.

But South Africa insisted on running its candidate for the post again. In the interim, Ping was given another six months in office.

South African analysts say their government’s insistence on keeping the candidate in the race was because of the belief that France was exerting too much influence on the union through its former colonies.

In the run up to Sunday’s AU summit in Addis Ababa, the contest became increasingly murky and underhanded.

On Friday, the Southern African Development Community accused Ping of abusing AU resources in his election campaign, saying funding should come from personal finances.

This was prompted by his use of the AU website and letterhead paper to deny a report in the South African press that he was about to pull out of the race.

The development community said it was “shocked and appalled by [Ping’s] blatant abuse of his office and resources of the AU commission”.

“The conduct by the chairperson of the AU, namely abuse of AU resources . . . is unprecedented and can bring disrepute to the integrity of the African Union,” read the statement, which also called for an apology.

Dlamini-Zuma, however, throughout an increasingly acrimonious campaign, retained a stateswomanlike demeanour, and refused to accept the mantle of English-speaking candidate, saying, “I am not Anglophone, I’m Zulu.”