You would be a fool to write off Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the ANC succession race. The ANC Youth League’s 73rd birthday celebrations in Cape Town this weekend were only nominally about marking that rather arbitrary milestone. What they primarily provided a platform for was a demonstration of support for Dlamini-Zuma by the Youth League, the ANC Women’s League, and the Umkhonto weSizwe veterans’ association. But she is hard to read, and even harder to approach. By REBECCA DAVIS.
The woman who could be South Africa’s next president sits on a studded pleather throne on a stage in a community hall in Nyanga. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma does not sprawl backwards in her seat, as an ANC Youth League official next to her does. She sits stiffly upright. She does not scroll through a cellphone, as the neighbouring ANC Women’s League secretary-general does. Dlamini-Zuma’s hands are clasped together.
On a table in front of her lie her typed speaking notes for the address she is about to give. She has annotated them carefully with handwritten amendments and revisions. On the back of the notes she has jotted down a calculation of the year in which the ANC Youth League was established: 2017 – 73 = 1944. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is prepared.
Photo: ANC Women’s League Secretary General Meokgo Matuba introduces ANC presidential candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to a cheering crowd in Cape Town on Sunday.
She does not exchange conversation with those around her. At one point ANC Women’s League Secretary-General Meokgo Matuba leans over to show Dlamini-Zuma something apparently amusing on her cellphone. Dlamini-Zuma smiles vaguely. Mostly, she sits impassively. When required to do so, she rises to join in song or dance, but her movements are stiff and controlled.
Nothing about her outfit invites particular comment, even from those seeking to give special scrutiny to female politicians’ dress. She is hard to read, and even harder to approach.
When Dlamini-Zuma entered the venue, she had done so surrounded by a cordon of soldiers and bodyguards. Journalists had been told by organisers that Dlamini-Zuma would take a few questions from media outside the Zolani Centre – as long as the topic of the questions was restricted to the ANC Youth League’s 73rd birthday event. “Nice try,” scoffed one journalist.
Top of mind was the news that Dlamini-Zuma will be deployed to Parliament to serve as an ANC MP imminently. As one cannot be made a Cabinet Minister without being an MP, this has fuelled speculation that President Jacob Zuma has her in mind for a position in a Cabinet reshuffle that has been mooted for some time. Rumour has it that Dlamini-Zuma will be tapped to be either Higher Education Minister, replacing Blade Nzimande, or Basic Education Minister, replacing Angie Motshekga.
As it turned out, Dlamini-Zuma did not even stop to field questions. Asked about the possibility of a Cabinet post, Dlamini-Zuma said, “I don’t know anything about that,” and continued walking – ending the “press conference” before it had begun. Dlamini-Zuma has revealed herself to have very little appetite for making nice with the media thus far.
But she wasn’t there for the media. While many have written off Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign as lacklustre or terminally tainted by its associations to her ex-husband, Sunday’s event provided a glimpse into a different reality. That’s one where she has – at least on paper – won the support of three significant arms of the ANC, and can muster an appreciative crowd to hear her vision.
“We are ready for Nkosazana,” sang the audience gathered to hear her speak. T-shirts pronounced “NDZ for President”.
ANC Youth League Western Cape chairperson Muhammed Khaled Sayed rattled off a potted version of Dlamini-Zuma’s CV, concluding: “We know she will bring the ANC and its movements back to its basic principles.”
“Yes!” shouted a woman in the crowd in agreement. Seated in the front row was former Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, enthusiastically clapping her support of Dlamini-Zuma.
Photo: ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus, representing the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association at the anniversary celebrations.
Also in the Dlamini-Zuma fan club was controversial MK Veterans official Carl Niehaus, who told the audience: “There is one candidate who has committed herself unequivocally to radical economic transformation, and that is uMama [Dlamini-Zuma]”.
To ANC Youth League Secretary-General Njabulo Nzuza, Dlamini-Zuma is simply “the incoming president of the ANC”.
When it came time for the woman of the moment to address her supporters, however, she did so in a way that seemed to fail to stoke fire in many bellies. A hum of conversation in the audience was audible throughout her speech. Dlamini-Zuma resembled less a revolutionary leader and more a rather strict headmistress addressing an unruly school. “Do you understand that?” she asked several times, while lecturing on the dangers of drugs, alcohol and youth pregnancy.
The ostensible purpose of Dlamini-Zuma’s presence was to help mark the ANC Youth League’s 73rd birthday, which she did with reference to the Youth League’s history.
“Do you remember what the ANC Youth League’s slogan was after unbanning?” she asked. An ANC Youth League official on the stage nodded eagerly. “Freedom now, education later!” he said.
She ignored him. “Fight, produce and learn!” she said. The slogan had helpfully been piped on to Charly’s Bakery cupcakes adorning a table to the side of the stage.
Dlamini-Zuma stressed that the demand for free education was “fair” – possibly giving credence to the rumours that her future Cabinet portfolio may be within education. But she said that the responsibility was not government’s alone: “It is your responsibility to study, to pass,” she told the crowd.
She used the phrase with which her campaign has become associated – “radical economic transformation” – just once, noting in conclusion that it had been adopted as a policy of the ANC at Mangaung. Instead, she talked around the concept.
“Black people must drive this country’s economy,” she said. “The land must belong to all who live in it.”
Dlamini-Zuma also hit out at the failure of South Africa’s mineral resources to bring material improvement to the lives of poor South Africans, and condemned the ongoing spatial and economic apartheid of Cape Town.
What South Africa needs, she said, is “an effective, efficient government, transparent in its use of resources”. Such a government “does not tolerate corruption; does not tolerate arrogant public servants”.
Dlamini-Zuma also urged the ANC not to fall prey to factionalism in the run-up to the December electoral congress.
“If branches elect you and put you in congress, you must go in there with the spirit to win but accepting you can also lose,” she said. “If you lose, you follow the winner. If you win, you embrace everybody.”
While the warm reception Dlamini-Zuma received on Sunday may have advertised a unity of spirit within the bodies endorsing her campaign, events outside the hall suggested otherwise. A statement sent to Daily Maverick and other news organisations on Saturday from 15 members of the ANC Youth League provincial executive committee dismissed the idea that the Western Cape Youth League has taken a unanimous decision to support Dlamini-Zuma.
“There is no way that we would support the continuation of corruption and the looting of our state resources,” the statement read. “When the time arises we will make our views known as to whom we think can lead the organisational renewal and rebuilding of the organisation. For now we would like to dismiss any public pronouncements made on our behalf, especially that of supporting Cde Nkosazana.”
Representatives of the Youth League on Sunday were quick to paint such objections as mere “sideshows” on the part of disgruntled members.
If Dlamini-Zuma is elected, said national secretary general Nzuza, “the lives of young people will change”.
“You can say anything about us now,” Nzuza continued, “but in future, history books will record how the ANC Youth League mobilised for the first woman president.” DM
Photo: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma takes to the stage at the ANC Youth League’s 73rd birthday celebrations in Nyanga, Cape Town, on Sunday. Photos by MATT ROSS
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle