She is more than just Zuma, her name is Dlamini-Zuma

The first woman we will celebrate in our series of phenomenal African women is Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.


Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
PHOTO CREDIT: Jacoline Prinsloo
On October 16 2012 South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma took over as head of the African Union Commission becoming the first woman chairperson of the continental body.  
A woman who essentially politically was always in the shadow of her former husband, the current South African President, President Jacob Zuma, her rise saw her growing to actually stand tall alone, shoulder to shoulder with the most powerful people in the world.

While gaining tertiary education in the medical field, Dr. Dlamini Zuma started her political career as an active underground member of the ANC.  She was also a member of the South African Students Organization and was elected as its deputy president in 1976. During the same year, she fled into exile, completing medical studies at the University of Bristol in the UK in 1978. 

After the 1994 elections, Dr. Dlamini Zuma was appointed as Minister of Health in the cabinet of then President Nelson Mandela. During her tenure, she de-segregated the health system and championed the radical health reforms which introduced access to free basic healthcare and also managed to pass the law that made public smoking illegal in South Africa.


Her road to Addis Ababa as AU’s top commissioner essentially began in 1999, when the then new South African President Thabo Mbeki appointed Dr. Dlamini Zuma as Minister of Foreign Affairs. In this role, she actively championed South Africa’s foreign policy which centered on the promotion of human rights, stability, peace, collective development and advancement of this continent and was one of the essential players in the creation of the AU in 2002.

One of her greatest loses some political pundits have argued was her failed bid to become deputy President in 2007, losing to her ex-husband, Jacob Zuma by 5 provinces to 4. In hindsight with the way things have played out, she could have become South Africa’s and Southern Africa’s first elected woman President. Alas, she was in 2009 appointed Minister of Home Affairs before she got the top job at AU.

As the AUC chairperson, she has faced some of the greatest peace and governance challenges including the Ebola crisis, terrorist problems in West, North, Central and East Africa as well as embedding democracy into the African current political disposition. 
Prior to being elected to the AU Chair, when she was asked to comment on her aspirations for African youth, she said, “We know that Africa has the youngest population. We must ensure they are educated, healthy, and skilled, they can become a big force for change in terms of our economic development. We need to look at our natural resources – how do we beneficiate them, how they can be used for the benefit of our people on the continent.” Such a vision for the youth is enshrined in “Vision 2063” a vision spearheaded by Dlamini-Zuma of what she hopes Africa will be like in 48 years.

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma has done amazing things but it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is her greatest achievement. If it were up to me, her greatest achievement isn’t any high political position, great policy or anything like that. Her ability to fully realize her potential in a generation that was extremely patriarchal, in an industry (politics) that is also male-dominated is the most impressive. The best thing is, when the 54 male African Presidents of Africa meet, they are all listening to the one woman in the room, and her name is Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma.

By Kudakwashe Manjonjo

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