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The curious case of Dlamini-Zuma and her dicey career strategy

11 September 2017 - 13:28 By ranjeni munusamy
Presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma delivering a Stephen Dlamini Memorial Lecture in Ixopo.
Presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma delivering a Stephen Dlamini Memorial Lecture in Ixopo.
Image: Thuli Dlamini

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is one of the most curious characters in South African politics.

Yes‚ she got people to stop smoking inside and was Robin when Thabo Mbeki was Batman‚ trying to rescue the African continent‚ so she has a few gold stars on her CV.

But her manoeuvres and leanings in the ANC give insight into a wily and extremely ambitious player‚ who tends to trip up because of the gambles she takes.

Dlamini-Zuma is heading to parliament now‚ which could fast track her political career or see her becoming a washed-out politician sitting in cabinet to keep up appearances.

In 2007‚ ahead of the ANC’s Polokwane conference‚ Dlamini-Zuma was playing both sides of the factional war.

She was nominated by both the Mbeki and Jacob Zuma camps for top six positions. The Zuma camp nominated Dlamini-Zuma for the position of national chairperson and she scored the deputy president post on the Mbeki slate.

She chose the latter.

Had the Mbeki camp won‚ as Dlamini-Zuma had assumed it would‚ she would have been next in line for the presidency at the 2012 conference. This means she would have been competing for her second term as ANC leader now.

But the gamble backfired as the Zuma camp emerged victorious in 2007 and she was left with no position on the top six.

Dlamini-Zuma could have accepted the Zuma camp nomination for national chairperson to bridge the divide between the two camps.

But she aimed too high‚ not at all interested in being a bridge builder‚ and this set her career back.

The collaboration between her and Zuma is a recent development.

Ahead of the ANC’s 2012 national conference‚ Zuma was worried that his former spouse might take him on for the position of president and inhibit his chances of winning a second term.

So her nomination to serve as chairperson of the African Union Commission was a convenient way to get her off the domestic scene. Zuma wheeled and dealed with other African countries and regions to ensure that Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the AU post was successful.

The Mangaung conference was a walkover for Zuma‚ thanks to Cyril Ramaphosa boosting his slate. Ramaphosa was lobbied to stand as Zuma’s deputy on the understanding that the president’s camp would stand firmly behind him in 2017‚ making him a shoo-in.

Ramaphosa is fighting for survival now because the Zuma camp turned on him and opted for Dlamini-Zuma. She decided not to serve for another term at the AU – she was quite unpopular in the continental body so there was no resistance to her moving on – to get her ambitions back on track.

Dlamini-Zuma has had no major scandals so it was a massive gamble to throw in her lot with the Zuma camp and take on their considerable baggage. Her two chief campaigners are Zuma‚ with his Gupta baggage and horrendous track record in government‚ and Bathabile Dlamini‚ who is so utterly inept that she almost brought calamity on South Africa by putting 17 million social grant recipients in danger.

Dlamini-Zuma has made no effort to distance herself from all these scandals. She truly believes Dlamini and Zuma – ironically the make up of her name – can deliver her the ANC.

Now she is headed to parliament‚ and most probably to cabinet‚ to line her up for the next phase of her career.

Dlamini-Zuma would probably have been included in Zuma’s Cabinet when he executed the midnight reshuffle in March had she been on the ANC’s list for parliament. But because Zuma was under the gun by his Gupta masters‚ he had to chop Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas immediately.

It is necessary that Zuma sets up Dlamini-Zuma before his term is up in the ANC‚ especially if things do not go their way in December.

If she wins‚ there will be no delays in her transition to take power. It is still doubtful that Zuma would leave office voluntarily before his term is up‚ but if he is under pressure to go to boost the ANC’s image ahead of the 2019 elections‚ Dlamini-Zuma would be lined up to step in.

If Ramaphosa wins‚ it would be petty and divisive if he removes Dlamini-Zuma from cabinet after a bruising showdown in the ANC. So she is likely to remain in cabinet even if she loses the presidency.

She might however be shafted into a colourless portfolio to while away her time until retirement.

Whatever happens‚ Dlamini-Zuma will be sitting pretty for the foreseeable future.