The AU's first female chairperson

Matshidiso Madia Matshidiso Madia


In an age where ideals such as gender equality are constantly being promoted, the African Union’s decision to appoint Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as AU Chair is considered to be progressive.

Dlamini- Zuma was not only favourable due to being female, but she also comes with a wealth of experience having served as the Minister of Health, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs since 1994 under three different presidents. The 63-year-old has built a reputation of changing so-called problematic departments into functional and effective divisions of government. 

In her manifesto for AU Commission chair candidacy, Dlamini- Zuma said she wanted to confront ‘Afro-pessimism’ adding, “We must show that our continent is a giant on the rise in what concerns world affairs”.

The AU's 54 heads of state and government held a secret ballot at the summit in Addis Ababa on Saturday and Sunday to decide whether Gabon’s Jean Ping, who has held the post since 2008, will get a new term or whether the first Southern African official would lead the continental body. 


Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s life began in rural KwaZulu Natal. After attending the local missionary school, she has managed to garner a considerable number of accolades and respect from her peers, the South African nation and many key political figures on the international stage. 

She’s often seen as the most powerful woman in South African politics, who is not only said to be a hard worker with a no-nonsense attitude, but has also been commended for putting the country in a strong position on the global stage, while paving a progressive foreign policy in her role at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs before moving into her role as Home Affairs minister in Jacob Zuma’s cabinet. 


1949: Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini is born on the 27th January in KwaZulu Natal.

1971: She started her university career at the University of Zululand, gaining a Bachelor of Science Degree majoring in Zoology and Botany after which she started her medical studies. It was also during this period that she became an underground member of the African National Congress (ANC) and of the SouthAfrican Students Organisation (SASO). 

1972: She married the now president of South Africa Jacob Zuma, becoming Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

1976: She became deputy president of SASO, that same year she went into exile.

1978: Dlamini-Zuma completed her medical studies at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

1979: She started working at the Mbabane Government hospital, serving as a medical officer in the paediatrics ward. 

1987: She worked at the ANC’s Health Department in Lusaka, Zambia.

1989: Upon her return from exile she worked as a research scientist at the Medical Research Council in Durban. 

1992: She was on the Gender Advisory Committee during the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations.  

1994: Dlamini-Zuma became South Africa’s Minister of Health. It was during this tenure that she ensured that the poor received free basic healthcare. She also put in place the Tobacco Products Control Bill which made it illegal for people to smoke in public places.

1995: She received an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree from the University of Natal.

1996: Another Honorary Degree bestowed upon her, this time by the University of Bristol.

1998: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma divorced Jacob Zuma. 

1999: She moved on to head the country’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

2009: The country’s third president moved her to the Ministry of Home Affairs, a unit that was riddle with corruption. Under her guidance, the department saw great improvements, with many saying she boosted the reputation of the home affairs department.

2012: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was elected to head the African Union Commission, based in Addis Ababa.