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IN July, at a summit of Heads of State and government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa's home Affairs minister, was elected chair of the African Union Commission.
Dlamini-Zuma beat the incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon after a heated contest for chairmanship of the bloc.
Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to lead the continent since the Organisation of African Unity, later the AU, was founded in 1963. She is also the first from southern Africa.
A trained doctor and an ex-wife of President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a veteran of the fight against apartheid has served in the cabinet of every South African president since Nelson Mandela. She was health minister when Mandela became the country's first black leader.
Addressing a crowd of international journalists on her election as the new chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), she shrugged aside the praise and admiration that had followed her since the news of her appointment.
She insisted on being seen as an "ordinary African citizen" who just wants to make a contribution towards the continent's prosperity.
The 63-year-old mother of four daughters if come across is regarded as soft and easy-going, but those who have worked with her can tell you that behind closed doors, Dlamini-Zuma can be tough when she wants the job done, and unlike many bosses, she's not afraid to get her hands dirty.
In her modesty, she silently wonders how she could be such a highly regarded person when she is just, as she puts it, doing her job.
"I would like to make a contribution like any African citizen. I would like to make a contribution to our organisation. This is not a personal victory or a country victory, we have to work together with every single member state and work together for the benefit of our continent, no one woman can do it.
"The future of our continent is inextricably linked with that of the rest of humanity, the world over. Africa must therefore take its rightful place among nations of the world as an equal, reliable partner, and full member of the international community," she was quoted to have said.
In view of the work she has done in turning around the Home Affairs Department and her previous superb record in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, many South Africans were not surprised that 37 African Heads of State and Government decided that she was fit to lead the AUC, a powerful executive arm of the African Union.
In her new role, Dlamini-Zuma will have to ensure that the crucial decisions that are taken by the continental body are followed up on and implemented - a task she admits will not be easy. She will need all the hands she can use.
"I believe no one individual can make a difference. I believe even in my own ministry that I'm as good as my team, so it's very important to develop and to have a team spirit so that you work and can rely on your team. Yes, I'll be a leader of a team but, I'll be as good as my team.
With Dlamini-Zuma winning the election, her ex-husband, Zuma concurred. "I think the AU has done the right thing," he said. "Southern Africa is happy but much more the whole of Africa is happy." But then some major African nations, like Nigeria and Kenya, had expressed reservations about giving so much power to South Africa, and smaller nations fretted that their interests would be neglected.
Both Nigeria and Egypt, whose strategic interests would not have been served by a South African victory, were strongly in the Ping camp. There are concerns that South Africa, the continent's biggest economy, will use its position as AU chair to further its efforts to secure a permanent African seat on an expanded UN security council.
On a continent where politics is still dominated by men, she encourages women not to be frightened to compete for top leadership positions where ever they may be in society. This is not surprising, coming from someone who was the only woman in the South African Bid Committee to Zurich which included Nobel Peace Laureates former President Nelson Mandela, former President FW 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.
She believes women are making headway in political leadership and that the AU is leading by example.
According to her, "The AU has really taken a lead compared to other organisations on giving the women places of leadership. If you recall, the AU decided that there will be equal commissioners who are male and female and the heads of state made a solemn declaration that women must take their rightful place in society in our countries and in the AU as a whole and they have lived up to that."Share