Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was born on the 27th of January 1949 in Pietermaritzburg, the eldest of eight children. She was born at a time when black women’s career expectations did not go beyond domestic work. She, however, was not to be limited.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma completed high school at the Amanzimtoti Training College in 1967. In 1971, she started her studies in Zoology and Botany at the University of Zululand, from where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Science (BSc). She subsequently started her medical studies at the University of Natal. During her studies in the early 1970s, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma became an active underground member of the (then banned) African National Congress (ANC). At the same time, she was also a member of the South African Students Organisation and was elected as its deputy president in 1976. During the same year Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma fled into exile; she completed her medical studies at the University of Bristol in 1978.
She subsequently worked as a doctor at the Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland, where she met her ex-husband, current ANC President Jacob Zuma. In 1985 Dlamini-Zuma returned to the United Kingdom to complete a diploma in tropical child health from Liverpool University’s School of Tropical Medicine. After receiving her diploma, she worked for the ANC Regional Health Committee before accepting the position of director of the Health and Refugee Trust, a British non-governmental organisation.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has been awarded honorary Doctor of Law degrees by both the University of Natal (1995) and the University of Bristol (1996). In 1999, she was bestowed a Tobacco Free World Award by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In 2002, she was bestowed a Tribute Achievers Award; a Premium Award on NEPAD from Tribute Magazine. In the same year, she also got honoured with the Grand Maitre de L’Orde National from the Republic of Mali.
In 2004, she was bestowed the Stateswomen of the Year Award from BBQ. In 2013, she was honored with the Order of Luthuli Award in Gold for her exceptional life’s work to the cause of freedom for the people of South Africa and the development and consolidation of our democracy in the quest to create a better life for all. In 2007, Dlamini-Zuma was awarded the title of Professor by a leading academic institution in the Republic of Belarus, the Belarusian State University in recognition of her brilliant merits and exceptional qualities in the service of her country and advancing co-operations between different nations and relations between South Africa and Belarus in particular.
During the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) negotiations in 1992, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was part of the Gender Advisory Committee. After the first all-inclusive South African elections of 1994, she was appointed as Minister of Health in the cabinet of President Nelson Mandela. During her tenure as Minister of Health she de-segregated the health system and gave poor people access to free basic healthcare. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma brought forward the Tobacco Products Control Bill in 1999, which made it illegal for anyone to smoke in public places.
Following the 1999 general election, Nelson Mandela retired as President and was replaced by Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki appointed Dlamini-Zuma as Minister of Foreign Affairs. In this role, she actively championed South Africa’s foreign policy which centered on the promotion of human rights, stability, peace, collective development and advancement of this continent. It was during her tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs that peace and stability was achieved in Burundi and the DRC, and it was during her time that the African Union was launched in 2002.
In the Zuma cabinet Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma served as Minister of Home Affairs. In this capacity, she brought about radical change in the department, which in 2011 achieved a clean audit for the first time in many years.
On 15 July 2012, Dlamini-Zuma was elected by the African Union Commission as its chairperson, making her the first woman to lead the organisation (including its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity). She took office on 15 October 2012. This was a major achievement in the sense that for the first time since the formation of the Organisation for African Unity, which became the African Union, a woman, and indeed a candidate of the southern region was successfully elected to this high post.
She ran for the position of President of the African National Congress in 2017, but was defeated by Cyril Ramaphosa at the 54th National Conference of the African National Congress.
She is currently The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, a Minister in the Cabinet of South Africa who is responsible for the Department of Cooperative Governance and the Department of Traditional Affairs.