Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Home Affairs in the Republic of South Africa, has been sworn in as the new African Union Commission Chair. The decision was made at the Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on July 15, 2012., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Lessons from Nkosazana-Zuma
Friday, 20 July 2012 00:00
Gender Forum with Ruth Butaumocho
Southern Africa broke into wild celebrations on Sunday when news that South African politician Dlamini Nkosazana-Zuma had been elected the first female chairperson of the hotly contested African Union seat swept across the region like veld fire.
She successfully challenged the incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon, who had been holding the post since 2008.
Madam Nkosazana-Zuma was not handed the commission chairmanship on a silver platter, but she won the leadership of the powerful African body in a third round of voting, where she got 37 votes at the 54-member body, scoring the 60 percent majority she needed to be selected.
Her curriculum vitae clearly shows that she is a competitive, decisive, and visionary leader, who has contributed positively to the development of South Africa from her early days with the ANC, right through to the different ministries she headed.
The 63-year-old is currently South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister and has also had spells as Minister of Health, Foreign Affairs, and happens to be among the country’s longest serving ministers.
If anything, her recent appointment to the African Union is an endorsement of her unwavering dedication, commitment and ability to diligently execute her work, something that women need to continuously improve on and take a cue from leaders like her.
It is imperative for women across the charter to note that while they go through the grassroots structures within their communities in preparation to enter the political arena or go through an affirmative process. They need to brand themselves and offer a saleable product, something that Nkosazana-Zuma has been doing over the years, and got it right.
Even in communities, at church, or work, leaders in both physical and spiritual realms often acknowledge the importance of working hard and often say achievement is better obtained through hard work and personal development. These virtues are not a modern ideology, but have been espoused for generations across nations and races, and those who continue to follow them can easily attest that they are currently riding on fertile land, which came about because of hard work.
That is the same picture about Nkosazana-Zuma, who refused to be petty and trivial, but instead worked hard into turning herself into a brand name, with credentials that speak for themselves.
So when her name went up for elections, the 54-member states of the African Union did not merely choose her because she was a woman, they chose her because she had proven beyond reasonable doubt that she was capable and competent enough to steer the ship. They were looking for her meritocratic record, which spoke volumes of her capabilities, and most probably the issue of gender was not the trump card in her appointment.
Even in South Africa, her home country and across the region, she has been described as a decisive, strong-willed revolutionary with a high level of ingenuity, something, which has contributed to her overall standing, among other attributes. Like any other African woman who grew up during her era, she could have encountered quite a number of gender stereotyping, discrimination for being a girl child and a host of historical disadvantages, but she managed to overcome them because she wanted to create a better environment for herself, her community and the world at large.
She consciously branded herself, and worked around in overcoming her shortcomings without losing her vision. Her victory and that of other African female leaders like Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Joyce Banda of Malawi and Zimbabwe’s Vice President, Cde Joice Mujuru, has opened up a world of possibilities that women can surely ascend to the top.
However, thousands of women aspiring for these positions and similar turf will need to realise that it is not easy as it may look, but it takes hard work, discipline, integrity and the right attitude to ride on leadership pedestals, slow and tedious the process may be.
They will need to learn from Nkosazana-Zuma and other equal-minded leaders that the systems can support you to certain levels and probably work towards removing certain social and physical barriers, but they will need to develop a right frame of mind, where they begin to see the glass as half full instead of half empty all the time.
Impediments, institutionalised or otherwise, will always be there, but women now need to think outside the box, and create synergies among themselves, do away with political barriers rather than continue to regard each other as enemies. Of course, their long cherished vision of getting into leadership and their ascendancy to the top will be met with trepidation and cynicism, where they will be perceived as being icy, tough, emotional, single and lonely and deemed to possess a lot of other toxic conflicting attributes.
But all that amounts to nothing, something that an aspiring leader ought to dismiss with disdain, because those toxic statements are some of disempowering tactics that women need to be wary of.
The world is slowly moving towards gendered leadership, an aspect that women should embrace with haste.
As Nkosazana-Zuma joins a league of powerful female African leaders in different political facets, optimism is already high that she will take Africa to another level.
Coming from a revolutionary fold, with an impeccable leadership track record, and well informed and aware of some of the region’s problems, she is expected to revolutionarise the union, while offering a new leadership dispensation.