Johannesburg: With days to go before Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma leaves the country to take up her post as Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the former Home Affairs Minister on Monday reflected on her time in government.
Casting her mind back on some of the more memorable events of the past 18 years, Dlamini Zuma said at the top the list was the inauguration of former President Nelson Mandela. She described it an emotional experience.
Going to Parliament and sitting in Cabinet for the first time were high on the list, along with the struggle to ensure that free healthcare was available to children under the age of six and for pregnant women when she was Health Minister.
Having however served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs over the years, she said health remained her most challenging portfolio as it was the first she was appointed to.
“Health and Home Affairs I enjoyed the most – simply because you can see the difference as you do things,” Dlamini Zuma said at The New Age Business briefing in Sandton, on Monday.
It was in these two areas that she had the opportunity to interact with people who needed government services the most.
Dlamini Zuma was modest about her achievements while heading the Department of Home Affairs, which she is largely credited as turning around. She said that she had built on what those before her had started.
“But I did think we had to attend to our front office because that was the face of Home Affairs. The way people were treated and the long queues…people used to come at 3am and queue, that wasn’t right for our citizens,” she pointed out. Despite the progress, she acknowledged that the department was not perfect and still had a few issues to iron out.
Dlamini Zuma admitted that as a young girl she never imagined that she would rise to the heights of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.
“Those days you didn’t know much what was going on outside South Africa. You were struggling to survive inside South Africa. I just knew I did not like what was happening, even at an early age,” she said.
Regarding her role in the African Union Commission and her vision for the African Union, Dlamini Zuma said: “One of the things that should be done is to keep strengthening that organisation. That it is an organisation that has the capacity to fulfil its mandate.”
A lot of the work done by the AU went by unnoticed by the citizens of the continent as they were not informed of it. She said better communication was needed.
“The AU is not just supposed to be for heads of state and governments. It also has to be driven by its citizens and that element is not there. It is important to try and see how we can mobilise our citizens…so [that] they understand what the AU does and support it.
“It is only when you know what decisions they take, that you can hold the heads of state accountable and make sure they implement them.”
It was also important that the AU was able to mobilise resources to carry out the work it does. Ideally these resources should come from within the organisation itself, she said. The development of all countries of the African continent was also a goal to strive towards.
“What is important in the long run is to ensure Africa is developed and we can share in the development of every country. There is no one who can hope to be an island of prosperity when other counties are not developed. It is important to work together to ensure the continent is developed,” she said. Dlamini Zuma said she was ready to take up her new role and would do it to the best of her ability.