Nothing but praise was heard when Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was elected chairperson of the African Union Commission in July. She has developed gravitas and credibility since her first post-1994 position in government.
"She is an astute politician, a veteran, and the experience she acquired as South Africa's foreign minister puts her in good stead to take over this role," commented Keith Gottschalk, of the University of the Western Cape political studies department.
Trevor Manuel, minister in the presidency, predicted: "She is going to turn around the fortunes of our mother continent."
Born in 1949 and raised in KwaZulu-Natal, Dlamini-Zuma obtained a BSc from the University of Zululand. During her student years she honed her nascent political instincts as an active member of the ANC underground and a member of the South African Students Organisaton, elected its deputy president in 1976.
That year she fled into exile and in 1978 completed her medical studies, which she had started at the University of Natal, at the University of Bristol.
Throughout her time in exile Dlamini-Zuma continued to be active in the ANC and during 1977 and 1978 she served as chair of the ANC Youth League.
After graduating she became the house officer of 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. She found time to complete a postgraduate diploma in tropical child health at the School of Tropical Medicine at the University of Liverpool in 1986.
Between 1980 and 1985 she was re-deployed to Southern Africa, where she served as a paediatric medical officer at the Mbabane Government Hospital in Swaziland. She was also responsible for the medical needs of ANC cadres in that country.
It was during this time that she met her future husband, Jacob Zuma. The couple had four children together before divorcing in 1998.
On her return from exile in 1990, Dlamini-Zuma became involved in the shaping of the new South Africa.
In 1994 she took over from Rina Venter as minister of health and immediately set about desegregating all healthcare facilities and implementing free basic health care for the poor.
When Thabo Mbeki took over the presidency in 1999 she was moved to the ministry of foreign affairs. Her political acumen blossomed and she garnered praise for her efforts to end the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, culminating in a multi-party election there in 2006.
President Zuma moved her into the role of minister of home affairs in 2009, where her skills shone.
The skills she brought to the job, wrought little less than a miracle at the troubled ministry. The turnaround was convincing evidence of her quality as a leader and her fitness for her current role.
The Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa noted that Dlamini-Zuma is the first woman to take this role — both the African Union and its predecessor organisation, the Organisation of African Unity, were led exclusively by men.
People score by knowing their rights
Civil Society Award
The Foundation for Civil Society
Founded in Tanzania in 2002, the Foundation for Civil Society is a bridging organisation that facilitates participatory governance and democratic development.
It fulfils a number of functions, such as providing citizens with grants, putting them in contact with relevant organisations and enabling a culture of continuing learning in civil society.
"We believe that we can reduce poverty, which will result in the citizens of the country having a better quality of life. The challenge is to get them to know their individual and community rights and responsibilities, and for them to demand that their community leaders act responsibly," says executive director John Ulanga.
People can only demand their rights when they understand what those rights are, he says. "If they cannot access information on the government, then they will not know how its policies will affect them. The funding we provide impacts on areas such as public participation, corporate governance, accountability and the democratic process of the country.
"We believe that these areas are directly related to people's capacity to combat poverty and any other difficulties that they might face," he says.
The foundation is not restricted to providing grants. On the innovation side it supports public policy dialogues at which citizens meet their representatives, public officials and development stakeholders in their constituency to discuss the drafting of a new constitution for Tanzania. These discussions also touch on leadership, good governance and accountability.
"Quite often elected officials disappear from their constituencies once they come to power. The public dialogue strategy is unique as it helps to close the gap between the stakeholders and provide officials with first-hand knowledge of the pressing concerns of the people," says Ulanga.
The dialogues are structured in such a way as to ensure there is a diversity of participants, who include district and regional officials, elected representatives from all levels of government and other stakeholders from the regions.
The foundation also organises an annual civil society forum and exhibitions at which interested parties come together and discuss relevant issues. These platforms provide the stakeholders with opportunities to learn from one another.
"When it comes to funding we prioritise organisations that are working with very poor and remote communities. Either the organisation is based there or the project will be based there," Ulanga says.
Through its work the foundation empowers citizens to conduct public-expenditure tracking surveys. This provides them with a platform to access ownership to land and to demand that service delivery standards are maintained.
"Our staff and grantees are committed to help improve Tanzania by providing its citizens with the means to become a driving force for change in the country," Ulanga says.