Party buddies: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, right, was backed by, among others, dubious Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in her campaign for the ANC’s top spot. Picture: VELI NHLAPO
Party buddies: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, right, was backed by, among others, dubious Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in her campaign for the ANC’s top spot. Picture: VELI NHLAPO

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma lost her bid to become the first woman elected to lead the ANC. She was defeated by Cyril Ramaphosa despite her lengthy and ambitious campaign for the position.

Her loss did not send any shock waves across the country because her campaign had been marred by questionable decisions and conduct.

The 68-year-old former chairwoman of the African Union (AU) Commission was meant to take the reins from an embattled President Jacob Zuma, whose unsavoury relationship with the law had stripped the ANC presidency of its once-high moral standing.

Dlamini-Zuma smiled blissfully as her former husband endorsed her candidacy on several public platforms. She preached unity, ethical governance and the prioritisation of constitutionalism, values that seemed shallow because of the company she kept.

Had she won, her victory would have broken yet another glass ceiling for women in SA and Africa — her appointment at the AU in 2012 was a first for women.

She would have become the first woman to lead a liberation political party on the continent, at a time when such movements need to reinvent themselves to attract Africa’s majority young population.

Dlamini-Zuma’s extensive leadership experience in the ANC and in the government would have stood her in good stead if she had been given an opportunity to implement her proposed policy interventions. She has been chairwoman of the ANC Women’s League and a member of the party’s national executive committee.

 

However, despite that experience, she was unable to discern that being associated with individuals and structures of questionable conduct could cost her the race.

Her mouthpiece was disgraced former ANC spokesman Carl Niehaus, who has been exposed for telling false stories about deceased family members to borrow money from his comrades.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini championed Dlamini-Zuma’s cause in her capacity as ANC Women’s League president at a time when the minister was rebuked by the Constitutional Court over her handling of the South African Social Security Agency’s grants distribution.

It is rare for candidates to distance themselves from the people who accompanied them on the campaign journey, but shedding this part of her past could be in Dlamini-Zuma’s best interests if she hopes to win the hearts of South Africans.

Dlamini-Zuma also has her own closet of skeletons. She was appointed minister of health in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet and held that post from 1994 to 1999, and was foreign affairs minister until 2009.

In the 1990s, SA was coming to terms with the scourge of HIV/AIDS that had by then wiped out entire families while the government’s clumsy approach failed millions of South Africans.

Dlamini-Zuma and Thabo Mbeki fell hook, line and sinker for alternative healing methods and explored the use of the controversial drug Virodene P058 despite an outcry from health experts and activists. Despite the drug’s main active ingredient being an industrial solvent, the ANC government invested resources into research for Virodene and in 1997 the ministers said it was a possible cure for AIDS.

She would have become the first woman to lead a liberation political party on the continent, at a time when such movements need to reinvent themselves to attract Africa’s majority young population.

The Medicines Control Council, however, blocked human trials and took no further action despite calls from the Treatment Action Campaign that the government should establish a judicial commission of inquiry into its senior officials’ alleged involvement in financing "human experiments".

What followed were years of the government turning a blind eye to scientific research in order to prove there were other treatments for HIV/AIDS. In 2008, Harvard University published research showing that, as a result, the state was directly responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people.

During her campaign, Dlamini-Zuma’s backers cited her banning of tobacco products advertising as one of her achievements while she was in the health ministry.

On HIV/AIDS, nothing was said about the unnecessary deaths, just that she "campaigned for affordable and accessible medicines for all, which saw her lock horns with powerful pharmaceutical companies".

History may be edited according to who tells it, but the activists who fought relentlessly for treatment in the 1990s reminded South Africans about some of her other decisions as health minister.

In 1995, tender irregularities in the health department, amounting to R14.2m, were reported. The department had paid the money — without a tender — to renowned playwright Mbongeni Ngema to produce a sequel to the acclaimed political musical Sarafina, highlighting issues relating to HIV/AIDS.

Although Dlamini-Zuma’s personality can be characterised as soft-spoken and motherly, many journalists and media practitioners tell a different story.

As she criss-crossed the country during her campaign for the ANC presidency, she dismissed and chastised journalists who pressed her for views on the many critical issues facing SA. Her link with Zuma, to whom she was married from 1982 to 1998, has not served her well in the court of public opinion.

mahlakoanat@bdlive.co.za

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