President Jacob Zuma is considering appointing his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to his Cabinet when she steps down as AU Commission chairperson, easing her path to succeeding him as national leader, government officials said on Monday.
The move would bolster Dlamini-Zuma’s profile and chances of replacing Zuma as leader of the ANC at a conference in December, according to two deputy ministers and an ANC official, who declined to be identified because they are not authorised to comment. Zuma told state-owned Motsweding FM radio last week that the ANC is ready for a female leader and the job won’t automatically go to his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, the other front-runner for the top post. Dlamini-Zuma steps down as AU Commissioner chairperson on January 27.
Dlamini-Zuma and Zuma were divorced in 1998 and have four children together. Dlamini-Zuma rallied to Zuma’s defence when some ANC leaders called for his ouster at an NEC meeting in November, following his implication in a series of scandals. Whoever wins the presidency of the ruling party would be a strong favourite to succeed Zuma as SA’s leader after elections in 2019.
Central role
"She has been out of the country, which means she hasn’t played a very central role in South African politics," said political analyst Nic Borain, who advises BNP Paribas Securities, on Monday. "Those running her campaign, and it’s widely speculated that Jacob Zuma is backing her, would probably try and move her into a more central role in politics before the party’s elective conference. I don’t think they would risk putting her in a controversial position in government, for obvious reasons."
While Dlamini-Zuma hasn’t formally declared her candidacy, she has said she’s willing to serve if asked to. She appeared to be in campaign mode on January 8 when she joined the ANC’s top six leaders during a walkabout at a rally commemorating the party’s 105th anniversary in Soweto.
Experienced politician
"She is a very experienced South African politician," Borain said. "She held three cabinet positions before she was the chairwoman of the AU."
Zuma’s successor will inherit a party plagued by infighting and haemorrhaging support — it had its worst-ever electoral showing in a municipal vote in August and lost control of several key cities, including the capital Pretoria, and the economic hub of Johannesburg. The party’s woes have been widely blamed on the president, who’s been implicated in a succession of scandals, including a finding by the nation’s top court that he broke his oath of office by refusing to repay taxpayer money spent on his private home.
Zuma has also been trying to fend off a lawsuit filed by the main opposition DA aimed at forcing prosecutors to reinstate 783 graft charges against him that were dropped weeks before he became president in 2009. If he is convicted, his best option for staying out of jail may be to secure a presidential pardon.
Dlamini-Zuma graduated as a doctor from the UK’s University of Bristol in 1978, and held several medical posts in the UK and Swaziland after going into exile during apartheid. In 1994, president Nelson Mandela appointed her health minister. While she was lauded for extending access to healthcare to the black majority, she came under fire for squandering millions of rands of state funds on an ineffectual AIDS education play.
Mugabe support
Dlamini-Zuma was named foreign minister after former president Thabo Mbeki took office in 1999, a post she held for a decade. Her tenure was marred by her support for President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who was accused by Western governments of stealing elections and violently suppressing the opposition. In 1999, Dlamini-Zuma was reassigned to the home affairs ministry and was lauded for overseeing a successful overhaul of the system of issuing identity documents, passports and birth certificates.
She was elected chairperson of the AU Commission in July 2012, after seeing off a re-election bid by Gabon’s Jean Ping. While she declined to stand for a second term, her tenure was extended by six months last year after AU members failed to agree on a successor.
"It would be massively beneficial for her campaign to have her go back into government," Susan Booysen, politics professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance said, "because she could get a position that would push her into the limelight."