Wongai Zhangazha recently in ADDIS ABABA
AS heavy rains pounded the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, a storm — not weather-related, but political — was brewing in the new, US$200 million Chinese-built African Union headquarters where the next head of the secretariat was being elected.
Incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon was locking horns with South African Home Affairs minister for the second time this year.
Dlamini-Zuma had failed six months ago to oust Ping as AU Commission chair.
The South African former foreign minister was nominated by Sadc, which had not had a chance to head the continental body’s secretariat since the Organisation of African Unity (now AU) was established in 1963.
Ping had the backing of Francophone Africa as well as countries opposed to the perceived dominance of South Africa — the continent’s largest economy — including continental political giant Nigeria.
There was palpable tension among diplomats as they shuttled between hotels and offices, lobbying for their preferred candidate and trying to manage an explosive election which threatened to divide the AU.
Dlamini-Zuma eventually emerged winner, but it was not an easy road for her as she had to survive a vicious smear campaign waged by Ping.
Ping angrily denied reports claiming his campaign was being funded by France and accusing him of failing to manage the crises in Ivory Coast and Libya, among other issues.
He hit back, saying SA had voted for Resolution 1973 authorising the bombing of Libya, among other things.However, Sadc was riled by the allegations and Botswana Foreign minister, Phandu Skelemani, accused Ping of “sowing seeds of animosity and division among AU member states”, and demanded an apology.
But some East African countries were reportedly angered by Skelemani’s remarks, as they preferred comments by another southern African country, not Botswana or Malawi which supported the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.
Fears in the AU corridors were that Sadc would lose some votes as a result, although Zimbabwe’s Foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi appeared confident.
“Everybody now accepts that it is no longer tenable to continue to marginalise the southern African region which has not held the position of AU Commissioner for 49 years,” said Mumbengegwi.
“Central Africa has held the position on three occasions and now there is no way they can hold it for a fourth time while southern Africa has not held it even once. Losing is not an option,” he said.
However, the battle intensified after a document titled Observations on Ms Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy was circulated.
“Accepting Ms Zuma’s candidacy amounts to fully selling out our continent,” read the document.
It also claimed: the fact that South African Reserve Bank had private shareholders was proof the country was not a sovereign state and should not be allowed to field a candidate for the chairmanship.
“The central bank of South Africa is privately-owned (although controlled by the government through legal arrangements) since the apartheid era by an Afrikaner coalition. How could President Jacob Zuma, notoriously unable to dismantle the Afrikaner infrastructure that still controls the South African economy through the central bank, claim to assume and defend the union project of Africa?” asked the document.
Diplomatic sources said Dlamini-Zuma had the guaranteed support of 30 countries going into the voting, and the challenge was securing the support of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Nigeria and Kenya, countries strongly behind Ping.
When the vote finally got underway, Dlamini-Zuma garnered 27 votes against Ping’s 24 in the first round. In the second round she led with 29 votes to Ping’s 22. In the third, Dlamini-Zuma got 33 votes, just one short of the required two thirds, forcing Ping to drop out as per rules.
She then ran alone in the fourth round to secure the required two-thirds majority by 37 votes.
As South African and Sadc delegates celebrated Dlamini-Zuma’s victory, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs assistant minister Richard Onyonka blasted South Africa’s ‘bulldozing tactics’, saying they caused ruptures within the AU.