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Johannesburg - Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has dismissed criticism that she has surrounded herself with a kitchen cabinet of South African officials, alienating other countries.
She also rejected any notion that her election to the job in 2012 had been divisive.
Dlamini Zuma dismissed criticism reported in media that she was struggling to establish good relations with AU member states and that she had isolated herself from other countries by appointing too many South African officials.
“First of all you couldn’t come to the African Union if there wasn’t sufficient consensus because you need two-thirds of the countries to vote for you. And as it happened, I got 70-something percent of the vote.
“So I wouldn’t say that was a divisive election. I would say that was quite a decisive election. Of course some campaigns take longer than others. And this election took longer than others,” she said, referring to the fact that she failed to defeat the incumbent chairperson in January 2012 and had only done so in June.
“It had its hiccups. But in the end there was sufficient consensus for me to be here. Secondly, I have not personally felt that there are people who are not welcoming me. I felt quite welcome.”
Dlamini Zuma said she had not so far responded to the criticism about appointing too many South African officials.
“There are two types of officials at the AU. There are the officials who are AU staff paid by the AU. And then there are those who are seconded by countries. Any country can second officials to strengthen the AU. When you second an official you basically take care of their everything except maybe operational costs like telephones and stationery. But you pay for their transport, their housing.
“So if you looked at my office, people who are being paid by the AU, I can’t think of a South African in my office who is paid by the AU. There is a variety of Africans coming from different countries in my office paid by the AU. And then South Africa seconded some officials to assist,” she said, adding that there were also a number of other African officials seconded by their governments.
“It would be a sin if I hired people on the AU funds from South Africa into my office, to the exclusion of everyone else. But as it happens there are no officials I came with that are paid by the AU.”
She was briefing South African journalists after this week’s AU summit here where one of the main achievements was to adopt a resolution to operationalise a rapid response force for willing AU member nations to intervene in crises on the continent.
President Jacob Zuma championed the initiative and AU cmmission chairwoman Dlamini Zuma said a total of 11 countries had already signed up to it, though adding that it was open for others to join later.
Asked if the force was likely to go into action, she said she hoped not because “I hope there is no conflict needs intervention “.
But she also explained that the force was not intended to intervene only in conflicts but also to fight natural disasters such as flood.
Dlamini Zuma confirmed her statement earlier this week that she would see out her first term at the AU, ending in 2016 and would not run for Parliament in South Africa though the ANC had put her on its election list.
And she also again declined to say if she would seek a second term at the AU after that, saying it would be counter-productive to be thinking about what she did in 2016 when she still had three years when she should be concentrating on her job.
Dlamini Zuma said she felt that after 16 months in the job she had “acclimatised” to Addis Ababa, though the altitude had been a challenge at first.
Other challenges including the challenges included Ethiopia’s unique calendar –in which this year was 2006, Christmas is on December 29 and New Year’s Day is September 1 – and the clock which starts at 6am.
She had also eventually adapted to the food, including the unique injeera fermented bread which she said tasted quite a lot like the Tswana dish Ting, though different in form and appearance.
She noted that she had been a cabinet minister in South Africa for 18 years before coming to the AU and it had been “quite a big shift” adapting to her new job.
“But it’s an interesting job. You have a lot of scope to test your ideas beyond the borders of your own country which makes it quite exciting.”