As Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma prepared to take over her responsibilities as the new and first female leader of the African Union Commission, the reaction back home was somewhat bitter-sweet. Many said the former foreign affairs minister was being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
They argued SA was losing one of its finest. That she was one of the few hardworking, effective ministers in our current administration. She turned the dysfunctional department of home affairs around, making it one of the best-run. Initially, when these observations were made, even during the first round of voting in January, which ended in stalemate between her and Jean Ping, I agreed with the armchair critics. But then after the dramatic sweep she made over the weekend, I started to believe perhaps it’s a temporary setback and one we will need.
In fact South Africans should rejoice we have Dlamini-Zuma there. She’ll be sharpening her leadership skills on the continental stage. I believe we are probably grooming our future president. I’ll tell you why. Sometimes for a good athlete to make a giant, gold-medal-winning leap, they first take a few steps backwards. For the past few months, maybe years, we have been watching Dlamini-Zuma as she took those steps with her eyes firmly fixed on the big one — the ANC and country presidency come 2019 (mark my words). We shouldn’t lie to ourselves and think she doesn’t have any aspirations to become the president of the country. Actually if former president Thabo Mbeki’s master-plan worked out in 2007 she would’ve been one of the heads of state who gathered there this past weekend.
When ANC lists were punted prior to Polokwane, Mbeki ensured he only had his trusted lieutenants to help him take on Jacob Zuma, Dlamini-Zuma’s ex. He wanted Dlamini-Zuma and government’s head of policy, Joel Netshitenzhe, to be his possible party deputies. Netshitenzhe declined, leaving Dlamini-Zuma as a possible Mbeki deputy in the ANC. As ANC president, Mbeki would have had the powers to appoint his own successor to run the country, allowing him to run the country via remote control from Luthuli House.
When Dlamini-Zuma was lobbied, including by the ANC Women’s League, she felt the country was indeed ready for a female president. And to make her intentions clear and ensure she silently rolls with Mbeki’s plan, she declined the ANC chairperson nomination but accepted that of deputy president. But as we know, she was one of many of the Mbeki-ites who were defeated.
Kgalema Motlanthe pipped her to become Zuma’s deputy president. But when most of Mbeki’s men and women walked away, some forming Cope, she remained to become one of the best ministers we’ve had. And she fought from within. She turned a dysfunctional department into the best-run. Dlamini-Zuma is a seasoned diplomat and tried-and-tested politician. She carried the country’s foreign policy when she ran foreign affairs for 10 years. And she did fairly well when she was the minister of health (well, hated by smokers for banning smoking in public spaces).
She served the country in various capacities with excellence and dedication. I personally don’t doubt her capabilities. Actually I’d put her in the league close to Nelson Mandela, the kind currently lacking and needed in South Africa … and indeed the continent. Just like the AU, our country is in a mess and needs a decisive leader, someone who can steer it in the right direction. Like the continent, our country needs a unifier, someone who can help nurture the building blocks of a prosperous, non-racial, non-sexist society, as envisaged by Mandela.
The less said about the current leadership, the better. They don’t inspire confidence and have so far failed dismally. Even if Zuma is toppled in Mangaung, it already looks like we’ll continue on this dark trajectory even with the new leadership. It could be Motlanthe, Tokyo Sexwale or even Cyril Ramaphosa. It doesn’t seem like this anger of the other within the ANC and the country would cease. Those who lost won’t accept.
Inequality and poverty would still remain — especially if policies meant to pull us out are blocked by the likes of Cosatu and SACP. The next leader would still have a faction that propelled him to victory looking for a payback. I really don’t see us having that in Dlamini-Zuma — not in great proportions, at least. South Africans may feel they are losing a capable leader who inherited the department we used to call “horror affairs” and turned it around. I say let her go. South Africa is not short of leaders capable of taking over where she left off, as department of international relations and co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela said this week. We may have lost a jewel to the AU for now but we are definitely going to win a true well-refined leader — the country’s future president when her term ends.