South Africa

‘She should not forget South Africa’ – students on Dlamini-Zuma’s AU victory

By Khadija Patel 17 July 2012

The excitement that greeted the news of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s election to the chair of the African Union Commission took many by surprise. Do South Africans really care that much about the African Union, or did the feel-good factor just feed our penchant for distractions? KHADIJA PATEL went to Johannesburg’s Wits University to find out what students felt.

As official congratulations poured in for Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on Monday, some South Africans were still baffled about why exactly the pursuit of the African Union Commission Chair was such a big deal for the government. Others embraced the news with more enthusiasm. It was perceived as a great victory – perhaps, like a victory in sports, an opportunity for South Africans to numb themselves against some of the country’s (many) current feel-bad factors. 

But what do the great hope of the nation – young people – make of all of this? Do they even care?

Zamatungwa Khumalo, 22, studying towards a BA in International Relations

“I think after (Thabo) Mbeki’s era, we largely forgot that there’s a thing called the AU, and the different bodies within the AU. So now that we have such a huge and prominent individual assuming that position, it’s bringing back the conversation to the AU and it’s making people wonder, ‘Oh what’s this AU thing?’ Just this morning I heard the news on Ukhozi FM, so if you were listening to the radio station and you’re in rural Kwazulu-Natal, you’re going to wonder what the AU is.

“There’s now a buzz about ‘Africa Rising’ – I think this is what the ‘African Agenda’ should be about. We should be, as Africans, defining what ‘Africa Rising’ means, be it politically or economically. We should be saying, ‘Well, actually, this is our land. These are our resources. This is how we want to do business.’ We’re still not there. We’re still not at a place where we’re at the forefront of negotiating multi-billion dollar deals that could have an effect on millions of Africans. For me, that’s what should be at the top of the agenda. 

“As a continent we’ve achieved political liberation – some of the democracies are still a bit dicey – but we mostly still have democracy and we can acknowledge that. How do we now translate that political liberation into economic liberation? A kind of liberation that trickles down to a guy living in rural Burundi or rural Congo? People have been living in democratic countries for over 10, 20, 30 years but the situation is still pretty much the same – if not worse than under colonial law.”

Noluthando Yende, 19, studying towards an LLB 

“Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s success doesn’t mean anything to me currently. I am trying to get to where she is. I’m trying to hustle my way to the top, so I’m primarily focused on me right now. Yes, it’s a step up and all of that for South Africa but for me, it doesn’t matter. 

“We have a somewhat stable currency and, compared to the likes of Libya and Somalia, we could help them out – not financially, but we could give them solutions for whatever problems they may be experiencing. But I believe South Africa should be focusing on its own problems first before trying to help others. 

“Looking at Home Affairs and how she’s transformed it – she could do the same with the AU. I think she should focus on governance. Governance in some African states is appalling, so she could just focus on [that] and the application of democracy.

“I think the ‘African Agenda’ is a bunch of… I don’t want to swear. It’s just some hokey pokey stuff. At the end, we’re all Africans, whether you’re black, or white, or whatever, and you’re supposed to look at Africa, try to grow Africa.”

[On the rumour that the inevitable cabinet reshuffle will see Basic Education Angie Motshekga shifted to Home Affairs:]

“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. With the whole fiasco in the education department – I’m not going to lie, the whole education system in South Africa is appalling. She should not be moved to Home Affairs. I think they should work with whoever is in Home Affairs, probably let the deputy minister take over.”

Michelle Gumede, 22, studying towards a BA in Anthropology and Political Science

“My reaction as a young, black South African woman was, ‘Yay!’ – they are finally giving women a chance to actually go out and make proactive choices about the future, not just in South Africa but Africa as a whole. I was also very proud that it was a South African who had achieved this. 

“I think South Africa has assumed a leadership role in Africa in terms of development, technology and science.

“My interpretation of the African Agenda is more idealistic than realistic. For me, the African Agenda is something very similar to what the European Union has created: a unified Africa for Africans, by Africans. I don’t see that at the moment. Look at South Africa, for instance. Most of the wealth is still in the hands of the Europeans and Western people. We are really not taking enough charge and control over our own affairs. We’re doing very little to contribute to that African Agenda and, instead, the (status quo) serves very few who are at the top, in bed with the white people. Well, I don’t want to say ‘white people’, but Europeans. 

[On the rumour that the inevitable cabinet reshuffle will see Basic Education Angie Motshekga shifted to Home Affairs:]

“I think that is futile because Angie has not been able to cope – what with the state of the education department and the textbook scandal and so many other issues that remain unexplored in the Department of (Basic) Education. So to take her from one more messy department to one less messy department, I don’t think she’ll be able to handle it.”

Klaas Mokgomole, 21, studying towards an LLB 

“I think it’s good for South Africa, in fact for the whole of Africa. At least we’ve got someone to represent us at the top there. 

“I think (Dlamini-Zuma) should pay more attention to South Africa in her new role. I’m not saying she should be biased, but she should not forget South Africa. She knows our challenges and she will be in the best position to help South Africa. 

“I’m not very happy with the way South Africa is dealing with other African countries. I think there’s a lot of countries we need to take examples from – like Egypt and Libya. So there’s a lot of things we have to do, even though other people in Africa regard us as a big state, for us to develop further. 

“To me, we need to speak about the new colonialism in Africa. So the African Agenda is about getting rid of the Americans and Britain and trying to be independent. But there are a lot of other things attached to it, especially creating unity (among) Africans. As Africans we need to get together. We need to be able to produce our own things. 

[On the rumour that the inevitable cabinet reshuffle will see Basic Education Angie Motshekga shifted to Home Affairs:]

“As an ANC member I will say Angie Motshekga is failing. Even though last year’s matric results, with a 70% pass rate, [were] great, but this year, imagine – she failed to deliver books to Limpopo province. So I don’t think she would do well with Home Affairs. I’m against this as an ANC member. And as ANC member I know the politics behind this as well.”

Lesego Ndala, 22, studying towards a BA in International Relations and Political Studies

“Hearing about Dlamini-Zuma’s election on Twitter on Sunday night was bittersweet. Sweet because it shows other African countries that they should trust South Africa. It seems other African countries are beginning to see South Africa as a good force for change. But at the same time, considering how much effort she has put into changing the Department of Home Affairs, for her to just leave in the middle of all the changes she’s made, puts Home Affairs in a very difficult position. So I’m glad for her; I just hope that whoever takes over the Department of Home Affairs is someone who’s capable and it’s just not another political appointee.

“I think (Dlamini-Zuma’s election) will probably change perceptions about the rest of Africa in South Africa. Considering that someone from South Africa is going to Ethiopia to take over. I think the fact that it’s a woman probably will change the dynamics of how women are perceived in leadership roles. I think in terms of African relations, it may improve our relations among African countries, but I don’t think it will make a huge difference to how South Africans see the rest of Africa. Most (South Africans) don’t even know where the AU is based. I think people who are studying international relations and politics – who are involved in that sector – will probably be more informed compared to the average Joe.

 “So I hope (Dlamini-Zuma) focuses on making the AU more efficient, especially with regards to the African Peer Review Mechanism, making relevant changes and actually increasing awareness of what the AU does.”

[On the rumour that the inevitable cabinet reshuffle will see Basic Education Angie Motshekga shifted to Home Affairs:]

She can’t even deliver textbooks. How will she be able to ensure efficiency with regards to the issuing of passports and IDs? I think it’s a horrible idea. It’s just horrible. At one point she didn’t even know what takes place in classrooms, so I think she needs to just go back to the basics, instead of trying to take over a new department. DM

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Photo (from left to right): 

Michelle Gumede believes South Africa is not doing enough in Africa to foster economic development in Africa; ANC member Klaas Mokgomole believes South Africa should be taking lessons form the likes of Libya and Egypt; Zamatungwa Khumalo, an International Relations student believes Dr. Dlamini-Zuma in her new role as AU Commission Chairperson, should strengthen youth engagement within the African Union; Noluthando Yende points out that Dlamini-Zuma’s election to the AU chair does not really make an impact on her life; Lesego Ndala has one word of advice for Dr. Dlamini-Zuma: Strengthen the African Union’s peer review mechanism.



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