Durban – Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said on Friday that one of the insecurities she faced as a young woman in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal was how she would manage in marriage, particularly when being pressured to tie the knot by community members.
“I always have this feeling that marriage was a worry to me yet it was important to society, but I felt insecure about how I would manage in marriage. Maybe that’s why I eventually opted out. I never really managed to come to grips with marriage. If you like, it's one of my failures,” said Dlamini-Zuma while being interviewed at the Forbes Africa #LeadingWomenSummit at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban.
She was married to former president Jacob Zuma. The couple had four children before divorcing about 20 years ago. Dlamini-Zuma is currently minister in the presidency for planning, monitoring and evaluation and the former chairperson of the African Union Commission - the first woman to hold the position.
She continued: “At the end of the day you can only transfer to other people what you are passionate and convinced about. It’s important to have family, but also important to be free as an individual. If you aren’t free, you aren’t going to be able to transfer freedom to your kids.
“My father used to say: ‘You girls must go to school because I don’t want you staying in a toxic situation because of a plate of food. This helped me with situations when I needed to opt out. I encourage people to stay in a marriage if it is nice. Divorce is not ideal,” she said.
Dlamini-Zuma had been asked about youthful insecurities other women may be able to relate to.
The one-day event, which coincides with International Women’s Day, is to be attended by over 500 delegates with more than 30 celebrated women leaders from various industries set to take to the stage.
The theme for the annual event is “New Wealth Creators”, highlighting women making their mark through non-traditional methods.
Dlamini-Zuma said that she was fortunate when growing up as she had supportive parents. “I was fortunate because I was the first girl in my family. My parents had the idea that if you have to discuss something, you discussed it with all the kids, but if you had to choose one child to discuss something with, it was the eldest.”
She said that as a young girl growing up in the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, the community expected one would mature, marry and have children. When she had her first degree and wanted to study medicine, community members couldn’t understand why she wanted to study medicine instead of marrying.
Dlamini-Zuma also said that a "critical mass of women" was needed to drive societal change and ensure females assisted one another to reach the top of their chosen fields.
“We need a critical mass of women – if women are down there, bring them up with you. When you reach the top, don’t kick the ladder,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
She said that in order to achieve gender parity, policies needed to be put in place and women needed to be organised.
“If women are organised, they can influence decisions that are still mostly being made by men. We can also influence the corporate world; we don’t use the strength of our numbers. I hope a day will come when women say ‘we are not going to buy that product until we know where women are in your company’. We need to be united and organised to do this,” she said.
African News Agency/ANA