Another Zuma eyes up long road to South African presidency

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the president’s ex-wife, is expected to bid for ANC leadership

Outgoing African Union Commission chairwoman Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is expected to soon enter the race to succeed her ex-husband, Jacob Zuma, as president of the African National Congress.

The move will likely take place once her successor at the African Union (AU), Chad's foreign minister, Moussa Faki, officially assumes office.

Dlamini-Zuma is considered the front-runner to replace Zuma at the ANC's December elective conference, although the party's embattled leader will remain president of South Africa until the general election takes place in 2019.

Whether the former South African minister will receive enough backing from ANC branch structures at the end of this year to challenge for the position of party president, and thereby become its first female leader, remains to be seen.


But as the ANC’s internal campaigning process gets under way over the coming months, her competency, achievements and failures while at the AU will be scrutinised as a way to assess her suitability for the ruling party’s top job.

After she took over the role of AU commission chairwoman in October 2012, many people hoped Dlamini-Zuma would follow through on her promise to reform the Addis Ababa-based institution, which has little or no impact on many Africans’ lives.

She promised to promote a “people-centred” organisation that would help to build inclusive, democratic and caring societies across the continent.

Four-and-a-half years on, though, assessments by those who have watched her work at the AU are mixed.

Long-term vision

Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters hail her for trying to implement structural and policy changes at the organisation that will make the AU more efficient and effective, and accessible to the public.

She was at the forefront of launching Agenda 2063 – a broad long-term vision of where Africa wants to be in 50 years – which was popularised around the continent through massive marketing campaigns and road shows.

Under her watch, a team of experts overseen by Rwandan president Paul Kagame was also tasked with drawing up a new plan to reform the AU Commission, although details of this turn-around strategy have yet to emerge.

Ensuring the AU could finance itself was another of Dlamini-Zuma’s priorities, as donor money is used to finance up to 70 per cent of its activities. And in line with that goal she supported a plan last year to finance the organisation through a 0.2 per cent levy on imports into member states.

When it came to women's rights, Dlamini-Zuma was applauded for campaigning tirelessly on the issue. Two consecutive AU summits since 2012 put women's rights as their main theme, and the continental body also started a major campaign to end child marriage, which is having a positive impact in countries such as Nigeria and Liberia.

In January the ANC women’s league labelled these interventions as the type of “sterling work” undertaken by Dlamini-Zuma that had prompted it to back her for the position of ANC president.

Ghana's president, Nana Akufo-Addo, and the incoming AU chairman, President Alpha Conde from Guinea, also praised the work she did earlier this week, saying she could become the second elected female president on the continent – after Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia – should South Africans vote for her.

But not everyone views Dlamini-Zuma’s time at the AU so positively.

Critics of Agenda 2063 say it lacks detail in many areas, and already some of its goals – such as African passports and visa-free travel for all Africans by 2018 – seem unlikely to be realised within their stated time frame.

Tarnished legacy

According to political analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran of South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Dlamini-Zuma has also disappointed many people because of the manner in which she dealt with continental emergencies.

"Her near absence from several burning issues, such as ensuring free and fair elections and mediating in peace talks, has certainly tarnished her legacy at the AU," Louw-Vaudran wrote in ISS Today in mid-January.

Indeed, when governance crises that broke out last year in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo descended into violence, Dlamini-Zuma did little to broker peace between the opposing factions even though both governments, which are AU member states, were involved.

In addition, social challenges, such as the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa in 2014, and yellow fever in parts of southern Africa last year, received little attention from the AU during her tenure.

Another aspect of her term that has drawn criticism was her decision to rarely operate out of the AU's headquarters in Ethiopia. Dlamini-Zuma even chose to deliver the first-ever "state of the continent" speech last December from Durban, South Africa, rather than from Addis Ababa.

This absence, and the fact that Dlamini-Zuma declined the opportunity to stand for a second term, is seen as a sign of her lack of interest in the pan-African body. Some of Dlamini-Zuma’s critics even believe she only took the AU job to enhance her profile back in South Africa.

Nigerian human rights activist Chidi Anselm Odinkalu wrote on January 12th in the pan-African online magazine Pambazuka, which means "Dawn" in English, that "much of Dr Dlamini-Zuma's tenure, sadly, was spent in pursuit of her undisguised ambitions to succeed to South Africa's presidency".

He added: “Not content with being inept, she was also distracted. Under her watch, the continent’s priorities marinated interminably, acknowledged episodically in a half-hearted press release or with a shout out on her Twitter handle.”