Pairing careers can sometimes be hard, but some great people have their own way of pulling it off. Dr Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma is one such woman. She is a medical doctor, politician and anti-apartheid activist.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma was born in 1949 and currently, she is the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. She has previously occupied positions such as Minister of Health in South Africa under President Nelson Mandela, Minister of Foreign Affairs during the reign of President Thabo Mbeki and President Kgalema Motlanthe, Minister of Home Affairs in President Jacob Zuma’s first term (she worked under her husband then and was lauded for bringing about the first clean audit in 16 years) and Minister in the Presidency for the National Planning Commission for Policy and Evaluation when President Cyril Ramaphosa was in power. She took up the position of chairperson of the African Union Commission in 2012 and she was the first woman to lead the Commission. In 2017, she contested for President of the African National Congress but was defeated.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma got her BSc in Zoology and Botany at the University of Zululand. She later started medical studies at the University of Natal and there she became a member of the South African Students Organisation and in 1976 she was elected deputy president of the organization, though she was exiled and got to complete her studies at the University of Bristol in the UK. After her studies, she became a medical doctor at the Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland. Dr Dlamini-Zuma went back to the UK in 1985 to study tropical child health from Liverpool University’s School of Tropical Medicine, then she worked for the ANC Regional Health Committee and later she became the director of the health and Refugee Trust. In 1992, she joined the Gender Advisory Committee during the Convention for a Democratic South Africa.

When she worked as the Minister of Health under President Nelson Mandela, she focused on improving and racially desegregating the health system while increasing the state anti-tobacco measures. In 1999, she introduced the Tobacco Products Amendment Bill, which states that it is illegal to smoke in public buildings.

Dr Dlamini-Zuma was listed among BBC’s 100 women in 2015. In 2013, the New African Magazine mentioned her among the Top 100 Influential Africans.

Her medical involvements include her serving as a Research Technician to Professor Adams at the Medical School in the University of Natal, House Officer of Surgery at Frenchay Hospital, House Officer with the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Berkshire, Medical Officer in Pediatrics at Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland and Pediatric attachment at Whittington Hospital in England. She founded and directed the Health Refuge Trust (HEART), and worked for the ANC Health Department in Lusaka, Zambia. After, she served as Chairperson of the ANC Southern Region Health Committee and later became a member of the Executive Health Committee for Southern Natal Region of the ANC. Dlamini-Zuma then served in the Medical Research Council in Durban.


Her Difference and Rule Breaking

One remarkable thing about Dr Dlamini-Zuma is that she makes her opinion known even in places where it is not appreciated and she does not shy away from positions where she is not welcome both as an African and as a woman, if it will make a difference, she pushes for it. This is seen in the way she broke the unwritten rule of the AU as African major powers do not put their own candidates and no woman had occupied the position before. There were problems with the election, but later she was voted in. Though her management and enhancement of the reputation of the AU were applauded, that she discusses gender representation, human rights and food security in the AU where men only discussed war was frowned at.

Dlamini-Zuma is well known for her keen focus on women’s empowerment across Africa, and she does her activism courageously. Though she was born at an age when black women could not have careers they desired, she refused to stop her career advances. When Dlamini-Zuma was the Minister of Health under President Nelson Mandela, the health reform championed by her brought about access to free basic healthcare. As Minister of Foreign Affairs, she affected foreign policy and promoted human rights, stability, peace, collective development and continent advancement. This was also when Burundi got peace and the African Union was launched.

Dlamini-Zuma fights the fight for freedom and her people as she wishes Africans can lead the kinds of lives they deserve. As a medical doctor, she did not just save lives, she also aimed for lives to be better.


Written By: Joyce C. Nwezeh Obi-Akejelu (Writer, Social media manager and graphic designer with Africa4AfricaWomen/Assert/PAWES).


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