Tribute to South Africa's Minister of Foreign Affairs - Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was nominated by the International Women’s Forum for an award titled "Women who make a difference", which was conferred upon her on 19 October 2002 in Mexico. This tribute was produced to coincide with the presentation of the award.

President Thabo Mbeki appointed Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, as the first woman Minister of Foreign Affairs in a democratic South Africa. A medical doctor by training, she was appointed by then President Nelson Mandela as the first Minister of Health after the 1994 democratic elections.

This responsibility is a continuation of decades of life of struggle and sacrifice as an activist in the province of Kwazulu/Natal and rising within the ranks of the student movement - firstly as a prefect at High School and a volunteer for blood transfusion programme -to assume the vice-presidency of the then South African Students Organisation (SASO) led by the late Steve Biko.

Her activism did not escape the attention of the then apartheid security apparatus which through a sustained campaign of harassment ultimately forced her into exile in the 1970s to join the ranks of that tried and tested national liberation movement, that carried the hopes and aspirations of millions of our people, the African National Congress (ANC).

Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Science, with Zoology and Botany as majors, she continued her studies at the University of Bristol while simultaneously serving as the Chairperson of the African National Congress’ (ANC) Youth Section in Great Britain between 1977 and 1978 which mobilised the youth in the struggle against apartheid.

Upon graduation in 1978, she became the House Officer, Surgery at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol for two years, followed by another two-year stint at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Berkshire.

During this time her steadfast commitment to the ANC saw her elected to the position of Vice Chairperson, Regional Political Committee, Great Britain between 1978 and 1988, and later became its Chairperson from 1988 – 1989. She also found time to complete a postgraduate Diploma in Tropical Child Health at the School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool in 1986.

Between 1980 and 1985, Dr Dlamini Zuma was re-deployed by the ANC to Southern Africa where she served as a Paediatric Medical Officer at the Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland where she was also responsible for the medical needs of ANC cadres in that country.

She transferred back to the UK where she was attached to the Wittington Hospital’s Paediatric section between 1987 and 1989. During this time, she was also appointed as the Director of the Health Refugee Trust (Heart), Health and Development Organisation in England.

She was deployed to the ANC’s Health Department in Lusaka, Zambia between 1989 and 1990, where she played a leading role not only in the healthcare of the community in exile, but also made a major contribution to the drafting of post-apartheid health policies.

When the ANC was unbanned in 1990 Dr Dlamini Zuma returned with all other ANC members from exile to help re-organise the ANC legally inside the country and to prepare for negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid government, which saw her once again playing a leading role in the talks which resulted in the realisation of a non racial democracy in South Africa.

In this regard, she was elected a member of the ANC Southern Natal Provincial Executive Committee while simultaneously serving as a member of the ANC Women’s League, ANC Campaigns Committee, ANC Health Committee. Her hard work and commitment to both the political and women’s struggle saw her elected to the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC). After the historic first democratic elections in 1994, she was appointed as the Minister of Health.

Under her sterling leadership during her tenure as Minister of Health, Minister Dlamini Zuma brought unprecedented progressive health legislation that changed fundamentally the notion of health – care in South Africa.

For the first time in the history of the South African people, our country saw the ushering in of progressive pieces of legislation that ranged from giving access to health care to pregnant women and children under six years as part of primary health care, recruitment of Cuban doctors to address the health needs of our impoverished rural population, the acceptance of the first group of South African students to study medicine in Cuba who have now returned to complete their internship in South Africa.

Through her commitment to "putting people first", Minister Dlamini Zuma pioneered legislation that banned tobacco sports sponsorship, which laid the basis for the passage of the legislation on "no smoking policy" in public areas.

This commitment to" people first" under Minister Dlamini Zuma created innovative pilot programmes that saw South Africa embarking on a programme for community service for medical students, interns and junior doctors.

Reproductive rights for women during Minister Dlamini Zuma’s tenure received high prominence, which laid the basis for the current legislation on the termination of pregnancy Act.

Minister Dlamini Zuma’s commitment to the comprehensive anti -tobacco legislation; the fight against HIV/AIDS and the campaign for accessible and affordable medicines for the poor, saw her lock horns with the powerful pharmaceutical companies.

The battle with the pharmaceutical companies was ultimately settled when the companies withdrew their case against the South African Government. This was hailed as a victory not only for South Africa but the poor around the world particularly in the developing world.

Her leadership has also been recognised by multilateral organisations and

academic institutions alike. She was the Deputy Chairperson of UNAIDS in 1995, was inaugurated as the Chancellor of ML Sultan Technikon in Durban in 1996 and has been conferred with honorary Doctor of Laws degrees by the University of Natal in 1995 and the University of Bristol in 1996. The University of Transkei also awarded her with an honorary Doctor of Medicine (Honoris Causa) degree in May 1997.

In 1999, President Thabo Mbeki saw it fit to appoint her Minister of Foreign Affairs. In this context, Minister Dlamini Zuma has worked tirelessly, as part of the South African collective, in pursuit of creating a better life and a better world for all.

In pursuance of this objective, she was elected President of the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR); Chairperson of the African Union (AU) Ministers’ Council; President of the Ministers’ Council for the recently held UN World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) at which she also led the negotiations on behalf of the President.

Working as part of the OAU collective, she has participated in a number of OAU delegations to help bring about peace, stability, development and prosperity to the African continent. She has also led a number of these initiatives, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Comoros and Lesotho can be mentioned.

Minister Dlamini Zuma was the only woman in the South African Bid Commitee led by President Thabo Mbeki, to Zurich Switzerland and included Nobel Peace Laureates Former President Nelson Mandela, Former President F W de Klerk and Archbishop Desmond Tutu where South Africa was awarded the right to host the most beautiful spectacle in the world - the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Minister Dlamini Zuma is the current Co-convenor of the National Progressive Women's Movement of South Africa having been launched in Bloemfontein on 9 August 2006 during the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the historic 1956 Women's March to Union Buildings in Pretoria.

Dr Dlamini Zuma is able to fulfill all her responsibilities primarily because of the unflinching support of her four daughters- Msholozi, Gugu, Thuli and Thuthu.

Minister Dlamini Zuma became an Honorary professor of the Belarusian State University University.


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2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa