Dr. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma (1949) is a seasoned leader and trailblazer. For decades, she has served her country and continent.

Education and anti-apartheid activities

During the 1970s Dlamini-Zuma became active in underground African National Congress (ANC) activities while serving as the Deputy President of the South African Student Organisation (SASO). Her anti-apartheid activities forced her into exile in the 1970s. She continued her studies at the University of Bristol while simultaneously serving as the Chairperson of the African National Congress’ (ANC) Youth Section in Great Britain (1977-1978) which mobilised the youth in the fight against apartheid. While working in the medical field, she was also elected to the position of ANC Vice Chairperson, Regional Political Committee, Great Britain (1978-1988), and later became its Chairperson from 1988 – 1989. 

Between 1989 and 1990, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma was deployed to the ANC’s Health Department in Lusaka, Zambia, where she made a major contribution to the drafting of post-apartheid health policies. In 1990, she returned to South Africa and played a key role in the talks that resulted in the realisation of a non-racial democracy in South Africa.

She holds a BSc degree in Zoology and Botany from University of Zululand 1971; MB ChB from University of Bristol 1978 and a Diploma in Tropical Child Health from School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool 1986.


A medical doctor by training, she was appointed by former President Nelson Mandela as the first Minister of Health after the 1994 democratic elections. As health minister in Nelson Mandela’s cabinet, she laid the foundations for free public healthcare for the poor, took a hard line on smoking and made medicines more accessible.

From 1999 to 2009, Dlamini-Zuma served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under both President Thabo Mbeki and interim President Kgalema Motlanthe. As foreign minister she fostered friendships with African countries and emerging economies like China, even when this angered the West.

She served in her ex-husband’s, Jacob Zuma, 2009 presidential cabinet as Minister of Home Affairs from 2009 until 2012. She was celebrated for turning around the grossly mismanaged department and achieving its first clean audit in 16 years.

Chairperson of African Union Commission

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma was elected as the Chairperson of Africa Union Commission, the first woman to hold that position. Generally, she was disliked because diplomats were expecting a weak woman. She presented the opposite. She whipped the AUC into much needed shape. She insisted on personally signing off on all travel requests. She steered meeting towards focusing on actionable steps to development and achieving gender equality in Africa. She enforced the mandatory retirement age, sending over-age staff packing instead of giving them lucrative contract work. She forced recruiters to re-advertise positions when they failed to shortlist any female candidates, in order to bring gender balance within the commission.

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma created Agenda 2063, the AU’s first concrete long-term programme. While predecessors focused on short-term and reactionary activities, she focused on setting out steps to creating a prosperous and integrated continent in 50 years.

Current work

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma is currently Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in the South African government. She navigates unchartered territory as she heads the department responsible for formulating COVID-19 lockdown regulations.

Dr. Dlamini-Zuma is a stalwart and champion of equality and African development. She is constantly criticised for not displaying to stereotypical female traits like “warm” and “open”. She is torn down because she is expected to be perfect but a perfect leader does not exist. She is discounted because she was previously married to President Jacob Zuma. However her male counterparts are never judged on their previous relationships or personal traits. Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is exceptionally fierce, wise and hardworking.  She is the most powerful woman in South African politics.

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