South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has won the vote to become the new head of the African Union Commission and the first woman to hold the post.
She beat the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, in a closely fought election over several rounds of voting.
“Now we have the African Union chair Ms. Zuma, who will preside over the destiny of this institution,” Benin’s president and current AU chairman Thomas Boni Yayi said.
Dlamini-Zuma, 63, an experienced diplomat, is a veteran of the fight against apartheid. A doctor by training, she has served as health, interior and foreign minister in South Africa.
Her former husband, South African President Jacob Zuma, was one of the first to offer his congratulations after the vote at the AU summit in the Ethiopian capital.
“It means a lot for Africa… for the continent, unity and the empowerment of women — very important,” Zuma said.
Dlamini-Zuma’s win follows her challenge six months ago to unseat Ping, the former commission chairman, which ended in deadlock after neither won the required two-thirds of the vote, leaving Ping in the post.
“She’s a freedom fighter, not a bureaucrat or a diplomat,” said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, beaming enthusiastically. Noureddine Mezni, spokesperson for the outgoing chairman told reporters that Ping had acknowledged defeat.
He “has accepted the results of the elections and wishes Ms. Dlamini-Zuma the very best. “He expressed his readiness to cooperate with her to work together for the unity of the continent.”
Erastus Mwencha of Kenya was re-elected as deputy chair of the AU Commission, he added. Members of the South African delegation smiled and congratulated one another as they filed out of the conference hall.
“It’s good for southern Africa. We (in southern Africa) never had this job,” a delegate from Zimbabwe told reporters with a broad grin.
Officials said the elections went to four rounds of voting before Dlamini-Zuma won 37 votes, three more than the required majority, to confirm her win over Ping.
Jakkie Cilliers of the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies said Dlamini-Zuma’s score had crept up from one round of voting to the next.
“She got ahead in the first round and after that the momentum kicked in,” said Cilliers. “The heads of state wanted a decision.”
Dlamini-Zuma’s win had brought “clarity as to who’s in charge” at the AU, after six months of deadlock over the leadership issue, he added.