Johannesburg - Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran of the
fight against apartheid who has served in the cabinet of every South African
president since Nelson Mandela, now takes the top African Union (AU) job.
Elected by the 54-member pan-African bloc in Ethiopia on
Sunday, she becomes the first woman to head the AU Commission.
An experienced diplomat, Dlamini-Zuma, 63, is known for her
competent management and stern personality.
A doctor by training, she was health minister when Mandela
became the country's first black leader.
She went on to be foreign minister for a decade, earning
praise for her shuttle diplomacy to end the war in the Democratic Republic of
But her critics found fault with her "quiet
diplomacy" towards neighbour Zimbabwe, during a crisis that saw President
Robert Mugabe evict thousands of white farmers from their land in 2000.
Her former husband President Jacob Zuma named her interior
Although that was seen as a demotion, she won plaudits for
turning around a ministry mired in gross mismanagement to achieve the first
clean audit in 16 years.
In her campaign to win the pan-African bloc's top job, she
vowed to work at making it "a more efficient and effective
And while she may have defeated the incumbent,
French-speaker Jean Ping of Gabon, she has refused to be labelled as an
"I am not Anglophone, I'm Zulu," she said.
Once she got to work in the post, she added, she would be
"implementing programmes... agreed upon by everybody" rather than
"consulting the Anglophone and the Francophone".
Dlamini-Zuma has the backing of the predominantly
English-speaking southern African region and is the first person from the
region to hold the top commission job since the AU was created a decade ago.
"She takes her work very seriously," said Prince
Mashele, an analyst at the Centre for Politics and Research, who worked with
Dlamini-Zuma's ministry when she was foreign minister.
"She has the rare quality of putting up very good
administrators," Mashele said.
But she has raised eyebrows with her unsmiling demeanour.
"I thought she could do better if she was a little more
affable," said Mashele.
Born January 27 1949 in KwaZulu-Natal, Dlamini-Zuma took up
politics in high school.
In the 1970s she went into exile, and studied in Britain at
the universities of Bristol and Liverpool, while helping organise the
anti-apartheid movement overseas.
She met Zuma while working as a paediatrician at a Swaziland
hospital and became the polygamist president's third wife in 1982. They
divorced in 1998.
When the ban on the African National Congress was lifted in
1990, she returned home.
After the first democratic elections she was tapped by
Mandela to transform the country's segregated health system.
She is remembered for introducing legislation that
overhauled the highly unequal system and gave the poor access to free basic
But she was also criticised for championing a controversial
HIV drug that was later proved to be ineffective.
When Zuma fell out with ex-president Thabo Mbeki and moved
to oust him as ANC leader in 2007, she stood as Mbeki's running mate for the
But when Zuma won party polls and later become president, he
kept his ex-wife in his cabinet - a rare Mbeki ally to avoid the axe.
"She is an astute politician, a veteran, the experience
she acquired as foreign minister puts her in good stead to take over this
role" at the AU, said Keith Gottschalk of the University of the Western