H.E. Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini Zuma is the former Chairperson of the African Union Commission, she was elected to this position by the African Heads of State and Government in July 2012. She served the continent in this capacity until March 2017, as the first woman in 50 years to lead the continental organization, including its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
A medical doctor by profession, she has fought for the freedom of South Africa, and has championed African development and the empowerment of women throughout her life.
Dr. Dlamini Zuma was born on 27 January 1949, in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. After completing high school at Amanzimtoti Training College(later renamed Adams College) in 1967, she embarked on her studies in Zoology and Botany at the University of Zululand in 1971 and obtained a Bachelor degree. She commenced her medical studies at the University of Natal, where her involvement with the anti-apartheid struggle begun.
She was active in the student movement – firstly as a prefect at high school and a volunteer for the blood transfusion programme. She was amongst those who ensured that South African Student Organisation(SASO) was established at the University of Zululand when she was a student there. She continued to be active is SASO when she went to medical school and was subsequently elected as the Vice President. Her activism did not escape the attention of the apartheid security apparatus, which through a sustained campaign of harassment ultimately forced her into exile in 1976.
She continued her medical studies at the University of Bristol while simultaneously serving as the Chairperson of the African National Congress(ANC) Youth Section in Great Britain between 1977 and 1978. As part of the ANC Youth delegation, she attended the World Youth Festival in Cuba.
Upon graduation in 1979, she became House Officer of Surgery at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol for six months, followed by another six months at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Berkshire.
During this time her steadfast commitment to the liberation of South Africa saw her elected to the position of Vice Chairperson of the ANC Regional Political Committee in Great Britain between 1987 and 1988, and later became its Chairperson from 1988 – 1989.
Between 1980 and 1985, Dr. Dlamini Zuma served as Pediatric Medical Officer at the Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland. Whilst living in Swaziland she did underground work for the movement. She completed a postgraduate Diploma in Tropical Child Health at the School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool in 1986, this was followed by an attachment at the Wittington Hospital’s Pediatric section between 1987 and 1988. During this time, she founded and directed the Health Refugee Trust (HEART) of the Health and Development Organisation in England.This trust was established in order to raise funds for the health needs of the ANC comrades in exile especially in Africa. She was deployed to the ANC’s Health Department in Lusaka, Zambia between 1989 and 1990, where she was part of the health leadership not only in healthcare of the community in exile, but also in the drafting of post-apartheid health policies. She also participated in the Women’s section of the ANC.
When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, Dr. Dlamini Zuma returned from exile, playing an instrumental role in the building of not only the ANC and African National Congress Women’s League(ANCWL) structures. She also played a significant role in the formation of the broad-based women’s movement that fought for the participation of South African women in the negotiations process, a strong constitutional commitment to non-sexism and gender equality, and the introduction of the then 30% quota within the ANC.
She was elected a member of the ANC Southern Natal Provincial Executive Committee while simultaneously serving as Chairperson of the ANCWL, ANC Campaigns Committee and ANC Health Committee. Her hard work and commitment to both the political and women’s struggle saw her elected to the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC), which she continues to serve.
After the first democratic elections in 1994, Dr. Dlamini Zuma served as Minister of Health in the first post-apartheid cabinet of the late President Nelson Mandela from 1994 to 1999. She served two terms as South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs between 1999 and 2009. In 2009 she was appointed as Minister of Home Affairs, until her election as AU Commission Chairperson in 2012.
During her tenure as Health Minister, she built an integrated and non-racial health system, initiating radical health reforms, especially access for all to basic healthcare, reproductive rights of women, access to free healthcare for pregnant women and children under six years as part of primary health care. She championed the banning of smoking in public areas and the advertising of tobacco products. Other programmes that she pioneered included the introduction of compulsory community service for medical students, increasing the numbers of medical students trained and access to health care for rural communities through a programme with the Government of Cuba.
As Minister of Health, Dr. Dlamini Zuma championed the fight against HIV/AIDS and the campaign for affordable and accessible medicines for all, which saw her lock horns with powerful pharmaceutical companies. The battle with the pharmaceutical companies was ultimately settled when the companies withdrew their case against the South African Government. This was hailed as a victory not only for South Africa but for Africa and the developing world.
Her inspirational vision and determination in leadership has touched the lives of many South African citizens, a feat recognized by multilateral organisations and academic institutions alike. She was Deputy Chairperson of UNAIDS in 1995 and later became the chair of the UNAIDS Board.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Dlamini Zuma championed South Africa’s foreign policy on the promotion of human rights, multilateralism, peace, collective development and the African renaissance. It was during her tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs that she chaired the World Conference against Racism (WCAR), served as Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Ministers’ Council and was Vice-President of the Ministers’ Council of the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). She worked tirelessly for African peace and stability, especially in the Burundi, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo processes and the launch of the African Union in Durban in 2002.
Dr. Dlamini Zuma was the only woman in the South African 2010 Soccer Bid Committee led by then President Thabo Mbeki, to Zurich, Switzerland and included Nobel Peace Laureates Former President Nelson Mandela, Former President F. W. de Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu where South Africa was awarded the right to host the most beautiful spectacle in the world – the 2010 FIFA World Cup. She was part of South Africa’s 2010 FIFA Organising Committee, which successfully hosted the first such event on African soil.
In 2009, she was appointed Minister of Home Affairs and brought about radical changes in basic services to citizens. She did exceptionally well in turning around what then regarded as one of the most ineffective and corrupt departments in the country.South Africans seeking identity documents and passports they experienced better service, shorter lead time and with more modern, user-friendly interface. “We are the custodians of the identity of all South African citizens. The full spectrum of identity management encompasses the safe maintenance and archiving of biometric and demographic records of citizens and persons who have been permitted to reside in South Africa,” said Dr. Dlamini Zuma.
Other notable achievements under Dr. Dlamini Zuma’s watch include the launch of the National Population Register, aimed at ensuring that every South African over the age of 16 has an identity document and every baby born is issued with a birth certificate within 30 days of delivery. Her department is also credited for the introductions of the smart cards, centralising the approval of study, work and business permit applications, reducing turnaround times.
As for asylum seekers, “we remain committed to honouring our international obligations to protect those who legitimately seek respite from persecution in line with international and domestic laws,” she said. “We are reviewing and overhauling our asylum-seeker management processes to ensure there is adequate capacity and expertise at all levels of the process to ensure its security and efficiency.”
Her work in the African Union Commission focused on the continental drive to ensure an Africa that is prosperous, integrated and peaceful. She is the founding Chairperson of the Council of the African Union Foundation, which is aimed at mobilising resources for the African Union and promoting the programmes of the Union. She also convened the meeting of the private sector to fight Ebola on 8 November 2014, to help raise resources to deploy African health workers to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The AU ASEOWA consisting of 845 doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, public health officials and others, drawn from 20 African countries, was the largest single contingent of health workers and was instrumental in turning the tide against Ebola. Under her watch, the AU also agreed on a long-term strategy of cooperation on diseases, through the formation of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under her leadership of the AU Commission, the Continent adopted its 50 year vision Agenda 2063, to create an integrated, peaceful and prosperous Africa, driven by its citizens and that plays a dynamic role in the world.
Dr. Dlamini Zuma’s work and leadership has been recognised in the continent and globally, including:
- Fellow honoris causa of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2017).
- The “Maître de l’Ordre National de la République du Mali” (2002).
- Peter the Great Award from the Russian Federation (2013).
- The National Order of Luthuli in Gold from the Republic of South Africa (2013).
- The Grand-Officier de l’Ordre National du Bénin (2014).
- Honorary doctorates from University of Natal (1995); University of Bristol (1996); University of Transkei (1997); Medical University of South Africa (MEDUNSA) and University of Rome (2013); University of Fort Hare and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (2014), and Honorary Professor of the Belarusian State University (2007).
- Dr. Dlamini Zuma is also recipient of numerous awards, including: the Gulen Peace Awards (2015); the eThekwini Living Legends Awards (2015); the Confederation of African Football Platinum Order of Merit Award (2015); an award for her contribution to the promotion of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics by the Boaneng Institute and the African Bridge Builders Award from the US Diaspora African Forum in 2014; the African-America Institute Institutional Legacy Award (2013); UN Women African Women’s Pioneers Award (2013); Chairs Award, Black Business Exec. Circle (2013); UN S-S Award for Global Leadership (2012); Renaissance Women of the Year Award (2012); States Women of the Year Award, Black Business Quarterly Magazine (2004); The Women Who Make a Difference Award, Women In Film (2002); and the Tobacco Free World Award, World Health Organization (1999).
Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has four daughters and a grandson.