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Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma leaves behind a rich legacy

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Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips / African News Agency (ANA) / Taken on December 16, 2017 – Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s decision to leave Parliament is justifiable. New blood must be infused. Her colleagues should emulate her, says the writer.

By Bheki Mngomezulu

The name of Dr Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma will forever reverberate across South Africa and beyond.

The announcement of her imminent resignation from Parliament made on the eve of the ANC’s interview process to assess those who will be considered to go to Parliament after the 2024 general election shocked many people.

While some hailed this decision as a great move and called on other long-serving and old members of Parliament (MPs) to emulate her, others have interpreted this decision in different ways.

There are those who argue that she deemed it necessary to jump an evidently sinking ANC ship to protect her enviable legacy.

Others speculate that she may have done this in readiness to join the Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) party which recently was given a thumbs-up by former president Jacob Zuma.

Whatever the reasons are, one truth that cannot be repudiated even by Dlamini Zuma’s detractors is that she will leave behind a rich legacy. This is the part I would like to dwell on.

Born on January 27, 1949, Dlamini Zuma will be turning 75 on January 27. She has served this country with distinction. After matriculating at Amanzimtoti Training College in 1967, she completed her medical degree at the University of Zululand in 1971. Most of her professional and political activities happened while she was in exile. The bulk of her work was done at different health institutions in the UK. However, she also served in countries such as Zambia and eSwatini. Moreover, she played various roles in UN projects.

In recognition of her contribution to society, Dlamini Zuma is the recipient of several Honorary Doctorates from various universities in South Africa and abroad. Moreover, she has received accolades and awards from many institutions across the African Continent and the globe. Her achievements are an envy to many of her colleagues in the realm of politics.

However, given her humble character, few people know about Dlamini Zuma’s many achievements and international recognition.

She has undoubtedly been an asset to the ANC. This is evidenced in the different positions she held in KwaZulu-Natal and in the ANC in general before joining the National Assembly in 1994.

Dlamini Zuma is one of the longest-serving ANC members, having been in the National Assembly since 1994. Given her qualifications and experience in the health sector, then-president Nelson Mandela appointed Dlamini-Zuma as the first Minister of Health in the new political dispensation. This appointment demonstrated meritocracy – unlike today, when people are appointed to positions they hardly understand (if at all)!

Mandela’s successor, president Thabo Mbeki, was acutely aware of Dlamini Zuma’s global experience. It was for this reason that he appointed her as Minister of Foreign Affairs after Alfred Nzo. She served in this portfolio with distinction for a period of 10 years. By the time she left, the department had changed its name to Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco).

While Dlamini Zuma was at Dirco, the Department of Home Affairs had been experiencing various challenges and was deemed dysfunctional.

The April 22, 2009, election was once again won by the ANC with 65.90 percent of the votes. On May 6, 2009, Jacob Zuma was elected by Parliament as the new president. He was subsequently sworn in as the third president of South Africa on May 9.

Being mindful of the challenges at Home Affairs, and knowing Dlamini Zuma’s work ethic and credentials, then-president Zuma appointed his one-time wife as Minister of Home Affairs from May 11, 2009, until September 2012. She did not disappoint. She turned the department around and received a clean audit – something that was unprecedented.

By now, Dlamini Zuma had made her indelible mark in her political career. The ANC did not doubt her leadership prowess. It was for this reason that it allowed her to contest the position of AU Commission Chair. Therefore, between October 2012 and January 2017, Dlamini Zuma was absent from the National Assembly as she successfully served the AU Commission.

On her return, she gave Cyril Ramaphosa a good run for his money during the 2017 ANC elective conference. It was only at the last minute that Ramaphosa emerged victorious with a slight margin of only 179 votes. There are different narratives on how this victory was secured. What remains clear is that Dlamini Zuma made history in this race.

Following the forced resignation of Zuma as president on February 14, 2018, Ramaphosa assumed the presidency the following day to complete Zuma’s term until the next election in 2019. On February 27, 2018, Ramaphosa appointed Dlamini Zuma as Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation until May 25, 2019.

From May 30, 2019, to March 6, 2023, Dlamini Zuma was appointed as Minister for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. During the Covid-19 period, she, together with Dr Zweli Mkhize, who was Minister of Health, were the most visible Cabinet ministers dealing with this pandemic.

On March 6 last year, Dlamini Zuma was appointed by Ramaphosa as Minister in the Presidency responsible for Women, Youth, and Persons with Disabilities. This will be her last portfolio.

When Parliament voted on the Phala Phala matter, she was one of the few ANC politicians who voted rationally and accepted the report by Justice Ngcobo confirming that Ramaphosa had a case to answer to.

The synopsis portrays her as someone who has no other point to prove. Her decision to leave Parliament is justifiable. New blood must be infused. Her colleagues should emulate her.

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela University.