I have been a long distance admirer of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the current chairperson of the African Union (AU) commission. I have admired in particular her resilience and yes, her acute silence over the years. Someone once wrote a flattering opinion piece about her in the City Press. A formidable character made even larger by an unshakable cloak of mystery which seemed to consistently shield her from any controversy. We don’t know much about this woman who some of us had hoped would one day take over the leadership of the country and become South Africa’s first female president. But then again, perhaps we do know a lot about her. A trained medical doctor from KwaZulu Natal she met the current president Jacob Zuma while working at a government hospital in Swaziland together they had four children one boy and three daughters one of whom, Gugulethu graced our screens as Lesego Moloi in the once popular local soap Isidingo. Their 16 year long marriage ended in 1998.
Faction Before Blood
Before she is the president’s former wife however she has held her own in the political corridors of South Africa, becoming an active underground member of the ANC and deputy president of the South African Students Organization in the 70’s, then she became the minister of health during the first non-racial democratically elected government of South Africa under Nelson Mandela’s presidency in 1994 which would later put her right in the eye of the HIV/AIDS awareness storm, in which the public protector called her out on irregularities in the financing of the play, Sarafina II. Then former president Thabo Mbeki removed this hot potato from her burnt fingers when he took office and handed it over to the late health minister Manto Shabalala Msimang who held on to it until her death on December 16th in 2009.
Hands free and still a little soft Thabo Mbeki moved her to head up the then ministry of Foreign Affairs (International Relations and Corporation), a position which seemed to fit her like a glove – and where she showed her mettle as a formidable leader and negotiator, helping Mbeki launch his African Renaissance dream in the form of the New Partnership for Africa’s development (NEPAD) which put him at logger heads with former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wades’ OMEGA,plan for African Development. Wade conceded defeat and elected to erect on his own behalf a towering statue in the same name (The African Renaissance Monument) before being unceremoniously deposed from power in 2012 by his former ally, confidant and protégé, Macky Sall.
After President Jacob Zuma did a “Macky Sall” on President Mbeki, he ironically moved his former wife “back home” to head up the department of home affairs (domestic affairs) in 2009, I had a chance to meet her. At a conference at Gallagher estate in Midrand. I was the only reporter I knew on the story and I needed a quick interview with someone big. Our paths had never met until that moment and I was quite surprised to find that she was much more demure and much more petit that this towering figure of strength which I had so often seen projected on my Television screen each time I watched the news.
She was also quite soft-spoken in person and much kinder and gentler than I had ever imagined she would be. I was as always terrified of asking (her) for an interview, but since I was quite desperate for a sound bite I bit my fear and did the job. I can’t remember what the interview was about but I do remember being struck by her, I wished she had more time in that moment for a relaxed conversation about life. But as always she was in a hurry and I had to graciously make way.
I was struck by her stature, she was so cute I could hug her.
I had long been curious about her and the African National Congress Women’s league – but my fascination with her as an individual grew even larger after our brief encounter. I started to think about her more than I’d care to think about any politician. I wondered a lot about her person, her relationship with the President. Her silence on issues which were important for women – the nation.
I became so curious I decided the only way to learn about who Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma really is would be to write about her, to study her life. Which I thought while salivating would make for a riveting read. After years of thinking about her, I finally decided to make a call to her media person, at a time when her name was a strong contender for the upcoming presidential elections. I called the man and he asked if the book I wanted to write was going to say she must be president, I said no. I want to write a book about who she is and not an ANC campaign. He said I was joking. And I thought I might as well be, I was indeed an innocent in a den of hyenas. Soon after, a vociferous campaign for her to take up the African Union Chairmanship made Ethiopia so inviting. I wondered how I could get through the cruel chains which the Ethiopian government had woven against independent journalists (bloggers) in that country. Some are still serving life sentences for treason. Without some institutional support my ambitions however noble could end in tears behind bars. So I watched her disappear into the thin horizon of the Promised Land. I kissed her and all the money I could have made with her goodbye!
Today I find myself thinking of her again. From a very different context – there’s something very interesting that’s happening, something curious. She’s still silent. And her silence has permeated the soil of rural KZN so much so that mini volcanoes are threatening to erupt on women’s faces, right there on their foreheads. They are tired of the deafening silences.
So if you are reading this Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and you think it’s time to talk about life, my memory of words that were never uttered or spoken is still in excellent, peak condition. You can always deny everything since you will not have uttered a single word. But you and I will both know that the truth about who you are and what it takes to be you will be out there releasing a million more tongues from chains of mental and physical oppression, in languages we are yet to conceive. I am almost certain that like our once beloved unofficial first lady of a free and democratic South Africa Winnie Madikizela Mandela, no one will judge you for it. Whatever it, is.