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South Africa optimistic of top African Union post

Published on 28/01/2012

South Africa said Saturday it was optimistic that its powerful candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma can unseat African Union head Jean Ping at this weekend's summit of the pan-African body.

The United States meanwhile denied a report that Washington, along with Paris, were actively opposing Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy against Gabonese Ping’s bid for a second term.

“The United States considers the selection of leadership for the Commission of the African Union to be an issue that is entirely for African states to decide,” the US embassy said in response to Friday’s report in the Mail and Guardian daily.

“Contrary to speculation, the United States has no preferred candidate, and we have consistently maintained neutrality on possible candidates for the chair.”

Dlamini-Zuma, 62, has served in the cabinet of every South African president since Nelson Mandela, who named her health minister after taking office as the country’s first black leader in 1994.

A doctor by training, she served as foreign minister for a decade under Mandela’s successors Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, and her ex-husband, current President Jacob Zuma, found her indispensable enough to name her home affairs minister — the post she now holds.

No woman has held the post of chair of the Commission of the African Union. The AU’s 54 heads of state and government will hold a secret ballot at the summit in Addis Ababa on Saturday and Sunday to decide whether Ping, who has held the post since 2008, will get a new term.

“Government remains optimistic that Minister Dlamini Zuma will receive the necessary votes,” South Africa’s foreign ministry said in a statement Saturday.