Carien Du Plessis
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. (Elizabeth Sejake)
This happened during an event, billed as her farewell dinner, which took place in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. She also used it as an opportunity to thank her colleagues and support staff at the AU.
Dlamini-Zuma is expected to step down this week when her successor is elected.
Struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was also honoured in her absence.
Another guest said the dinner at the AU headquarters doubled as a lobbying event for Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the South African presidency and resembled an ANC party.
Having invited the ANC Women’s League to the dinner, Dlamini-Zuma made a point of thanking the organisation for its support over the years.
She went on to address women in general, saying: “I always say to the women here at the AU that we must get involved in political parties … because when they get to govern, they will determine whether you have water in your house and whether there is a clinic nearby. These issues affect our lives directly, especially as women.
“So, it is very important for women to be mayors, to be ministers, to be presidents, to be everything.
“I hope one day we will have a UN secretary-general who is a woman,” she said, to loud cheers and calls of “malibongwe” from the guests, who included ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, secretary-general Meokgo Matuba and International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.
Peace and security
Dlamini-Zuma revealed that there were moments before her appointment as AU Commission chair in 2012 that she doubted she would make it.
“I want to rewind to 2012 and say to some of you who were there at the January summit, after the first round of elections, which were inconclusive. We did not make it, but the women, many other [women], were there.
“They encouraged [me] … At some stage I thought uh-uh, maybe I was wrong; I mustn’t [run for chairperson], but women pushed and pushed and in July 2012 – when the second round of elections were held – we made it. The heads of state elected a woman.”
She thanked Senegalese women’s rights activist Bineta Diop, whom she appointed the AU Commission’s special envoy for women, peace and security in 2014.
In her speech, Diop recounted an incident at the January 2012 AU summit, where she and then AU Commission chair Jean Ping had an altercation.
Dlamini-Zuma had challenged him for the position of AU Commision chair in a bruising battle.
Diop went on to conclude that Dlamini-Zuma would become South Africa’s next president. Guests responded by singing a struggle song in tribute to Dlamini-Zuma’s activism, declaring: “There is no one else like you.”
A film heaping praise on the outgoing AU Commission chair, and highlighting her achievements during her term of office, was then screened. Businesswoman and ANC stalwart Cheryl Carolus appeared in it along with other effusive AU commissioners.
A guest at the farewell dinner, with insight into Dlamini-Zuma’s tenure, made mention of the criticism directed at the outgoing chair while in office, adding that the gender lobby was being used to polish Dlamini-Zuma’s image.
Declined to give names
Gender was the one area which earned Dlamini-Zuma almost universal praise over her four-and-a-half year term of office.
Liesl Louw-Vaudran, an Africa analyst and a consultant at the Institute for Security Studies, also hailed her campaign to reduce child marriage as a great success.
However, she came under fire for using her farewell dinner to promote her ANC affiliations.
“It was an official AU dinner to say goodbye to a continental leader, not an ANC member,” said a guest.
“It proved that her umbilical chord to her country was never cut. This would never fly in the EU.”
It appeared that Dlamini-Zuma was using the event to lobby continental support for her presidential bid.
For its part, the women’s league used its visit to Addis Ababa as an opportunity to establish a task team and “diaspora desk” for South African women outside the country.
However, the organisation declined to give any names of organisers running the Ethiopia desk.
Matuba attended an ANC lekgotla after the event and did not respond to requests for an interview.
A Dlamini-Zuma backer in South Africa said that although her campaign strategy was still being formulated, a key aim would be to reach beyond traditional ANC structures and focus on the 2019 elections.
The backer added that the next ANC president would have to garner support beyond South Africa’s borders because international and continental work would be part of the job.