Dlamini-Zuma could well be victorious

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With the ANC set to elect its new leadership later this year, the succession debate has gained a new impetus with more names being thrown into the hat as potential candidates for the leader of the party and the president of the country.

One of the names being bandied about is Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. She might not be the front-runner, but presidential races have at times defied predictions and logic - with dark horses emerging victorious.

Dlamini-Zuma is not a charismatic politician who rouses the masses or has them eating out of her hand. She prefers to keep a low profile while efficiently going about her duty.

She cut her political teeth under President Nelson Mandela as the first health minister of a nonracial South Africa. During her tenure in this position she did not win herself many friends. Her mediocre performance was dealt a further blow by the Sarafina controversy.

But her political star rose when President Thabo Mbeki appointed her foreign affairs minister in 1999. This senior appointment took many political observers and analysts by surprise.

But the appointment transformed her. She exudes confidence and her dress sense has improved.

Dlamini-Zuma has traversed the globe representing her country. She has been tasked with solving difficult problems facing Africa. Through her efforts the country's foreign policy has been well received in Europe and the US.

When she appears on television to brief viewers on her interventions, she does so with clarity and confidence, carefully choosing her words.

Anyone wishing to ascend to the ANC presidency and that of the country must have the support of all the ANC structures and its alliance partners. These would include the women and youth leagues, the feuding Sanco, the quarrelsome SACP and Cosatu.

Having spent most of her time outside the country she might not have allies in these structures, but what is important is that she does not have enemies either.

The other point in her favour is that as foreign affairs minister she has not been involved in controversies and scandals, except for when she dismissed charges against former Ambassador Norman Mashabane, who was accused of sexual harassment.

She has also kept her distance from the scandals of her ex-husband Jacob Zuma. She declined the deputy presidency when Mbeki offered it to her after Zuma was axed. The move could be seen as an indication of her modesty while prepared to continue serving her country with loyalty as foreign affairs minister. It could also be seen by Zuma fans as a sign of loyalty to their idol. On the other hand, she might still have to contend with those very supporters if they continue to support Zuma's candidacy.

Last year Mbeki said that his successor should be a woman. Dlamini-Zuma's victory would be a triumph for South Africa's women who, though making steady progress in many areas, are still regarded by some as not yet being ready to lead the country.

l Phil Mtimkhulu is a lecturer at the University of South Africa.