Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was born on January 27, 1949 in KwaZulu-Natal and is the eldest of eight children. She completed high school at the Amanzimtoti Training College in 1967.
In 1971, she started her studies in zoology and botany at the University of Zululand, where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree. She began her medical studies at the now University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she became an underground member of the South African Students’ Organisation and was elected its deputy president in 1976.
She was exiled that year and finished her studies at the University of Bristol in the UK in 1978. She then worked as a doctor at the Mbabane government hospital in Swaziland.
Dlamini Zuma has been awarded honorary doctor of law degrees by UKZN and the University of Bristol.
She chaired the AU Commission, elected to this position by African heads of state in July 2012. She served in this capacity until March 2017, the first woman in 50 years to lead the organisation.
While working in Mbabane, she met her former husband, Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa.
She has four daughters and a grandson: Msholozi (born 1982); Gugulethu Zama-Ncube (born 1985), who married the son of Zimbabwean politician and MDC president Welshman Ncube; “Thuli” Nokuthula Nomaqhawe (born 1987); and their youngest daughter, Thuthukile Zuma, who was appointed chief of staff of the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services in 2014.
She divorced Zuma in 1998 when she was health minister and he was an MEC in KZN.
Dlamini Zuma has voiced her support for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to get to the bottom of allegations of state capture, although she said she could not do anything about it as she was not in government.
She did say, however, that if she were to be named the next president, she would not ignore the allegations against Zuma.
She was once quoted as saying: “Where allegations are made against any person, these must be investigated so that the nation knows whether there is a basis for charges, and to provide them with an opportunity to answer to the allegations.”
While other presidential hopefuls listed state capture as the focus of their campaigns, Dlamini Zuma said her campaign focused on ANC policies and what needed to be done to unite the ruling party. Poverty and unemployment were also on her priority list.
Radical economic transformation
She has called for sweeping radical economic transformation to help solve the problem of slow economic growth. She defined it as “a fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions, patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of the people, especially the poor, the majority of whom are African and female”.
She insisted the concept was not new to the country. She called for a skills revolution, saying the country had a lot of potential and identified industries that needed to be exploited to unlock their economic potential.
These included agriculture, information technology, tourism, infrastructure development and mining.
She stressed radical economic transformation was not anti-white but “pro-South Africa, just as gender equality is not anti-men but pro-progress”.
“Our colonisers saw us as people to get water and wood for them. They saw Africa generally as a supplier of raw materials.”
At university in the 1970s, Dlamini Zuma helped black students in their pursuit of education and was forced into exile by the apartheid government because of her activism.
She was deployed to the ANC’s health department in Lusaka, Zambia in 1989-1990, as part of the leadership taking care of the community in exile, and helped draft post-apartheid health policies.
She participated in the women’s section of the ANC. When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, Dlamini Zuma returned from exile to play an instrumental role in building the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) structures.
She was elected a member of the ANC Southern Natal provincial executive committee while serving as chairperson of the ANCWL, ANC campaigns committee and ANC health committee.
She was elected to the ANC national executive committee, which she continues to serve.
Dlamini Zuma was minister of health in the first post-apartheid cabinet under Nelson Mandela from 1994 to 1999. She also served two terms as foreign affairs minister between 1999 and 2009.
She played a role in desegregating the health system and giving the underprivileged access to free basic health care. She had the difficult job of formulating the health-care structures for nine provinces.
In 2009, she was appointed minister of home affairs, a post she held until elected to chair the AU Commission.
In 1995, the Department of Health awarded a R14.27million contract to playwright Mbongeni Ngema to produce an Aids education play, Sarafina II, for young people.
The contract was criticised by the public protector for poor financial controls and commissioning procedures after journalists investigated the deal. She shelved the play.
She was also criticised for backing Aids drug Virodene, which was cheaper but rejected by the scientific community for being ineffective.