1 October 2012

South Africa: Dlamini Zuma Bids Farewell

As Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma bids farewell to the department to take up a new role at the African Union in Addis Ababa, managers in her department know they have an immeasurable task of ensuring her legacy is protected and that they carry Home Affairs to new heights.

After serving the South African government for a full 18 astounding years, Dlamini Zuma, 63, is preparing to pass the baton to another leader who will no doubt be expected to also add value in moulding the crucial department, something she has excelled in doing since taking over in 2009.

As the department's staff gave her a fond farewell at a glittering affair in Pretoria earlier this month (September) her colleagues in government have described her as 'imbogodo' (hard stone), a term which has become associated with her uncompromising politics and leadership style.

Dlamini Zuma is expected to take up her seat in Addis Ababa in mid-October as the new chairperson of the African Union Commission, the first ever women to have been appointed to the position.

President Jacob Zuma is expected to make an announcement of Cabinet changes soon after she departs on 12 October.

The 63-year-old mother of four prides herself for presiding over the implementation of a series of policies and strategies to fix what many South Africans perceived to be the worst run department.

The down to earth 'Madlamini' as she is affectionately known by her colleagues, looked close to tears as the South Africa National Defence Force band and Home Affairs officials saluted her in a parade fit for a queen. South Africans and the entire public service will remember her as a minister, whose leadership helped Home Affairs receive its first clean audit in 18 years.

She admits leaving the department has left her emotionally charged.

"I've got mixed feelings. I'm sorry to leave the department because we have worked very well as a team...but at the same time I've been deployed elsewhere and I have to look forward to going".

She goes on to wish the department all the best as it prepares for a new political leadership.

"I hope they will continue doing the good work. If a sensible minister comes, continues to work with the team to change things for the better it (the improved performance) should be sustained".

"My advice is that the team knows where to go, they know the department and they have a vision to change the department for the better and all they want is guidance from a minister".

Dlamini Zuma insists that her loyalty would now shift to the African Union if should is to serve the continent with distinction.

"I'm a South African, part of a bigger continent, so I've always been attached to the continent as it should be, I will take no instruction from any individual country but I will do what I think it's best for the organisation".

One would conclude that it is precisely that spirit of doing what is best for the organisation that had helped Dlamini Zuma excelled at Home Affairs and indeed her previous portfolios in government.

Her outstanding achievement, attested by colleagues in her department who paid a moving tribute to their political boss, was to help Home Affairs implement modern technology that had led to a drastic cut in turnaround time for issuing of ID books and passports. She's been praised for turning an embattled department into an institution many South Africans can be proud of.

Senior public servants said almost the same thing about her humble nature during the moving send-off party attended by more than 500 departmental staff from across the country.

"She is a minister who is so humble as to always remind us that a leader is as good as his or her team. She says the achievements which the department of home affairs has achieved in the process of its transformation, it's not only about her solely but it's because of the staff complement that has been able to get guidance from the minister in order to implement our mandate," says Home Affairs Director General Mkhuseli Apleni.

The minister's departure should not mean the end of the department's sterling work and improved performance.

"Our feeling is that the only gift which we can give to the minister as a team is to make sure that this department does not fall apart by her departure. If we allow that to happen then we probably would have failed to give the minister a good departure gift".

This is the same message Dlamini Zuma emphasises during her final address to her department's staff.

"We must not get used to bad services for our people because it means the national psyche has gotten used to mediocrity...If Home Affairs loses, it means someone's life is in misery... we are visiting grief on our people instead of making it better," she says.

"I love you and now I know you all love me too. I'm happy that I'm going to leave the department on a good footing".

Apleni insists the only way to protect Dlamini Zuma's legacy would be to ensure an uninterrupted Home Affairs service to the people of South Africa, Africa and indeed the world.

"What we have learned from her is that she has got management by guidance. The minister just guides us and from there gives us space to be able to operate which we think is what is going to make the department or has made the department improve. The minister is not issuing a birth certificate, she's not issuing an ID and she's definitely not in a port of entry but because of her guidance, managers have been able to carry out all of these critical duties. It is therefore our belief that all of us in leadership in the department should carry on in that spirit."

The same positive sentiments are echoed by the Deputy Minister in the department Fatima Chohan who reaffirms that a new minister should take forward the solid foundation left by Dlamini Zuma.

Chohan paid a teary tribute to Dlamini Zuma in interview, describing her as a leader "who has made Home Affairs into a solid machinery".

"She has done quite a few things. The first thing that the minister did was to look at this department from the perspective of trying to find out where the problems were and not sitting in the office and doing so by the remote control, she is hands on".

Chohan described these qualities as a mark of a good leader, something she believes would help the department sustain its newly found reputation.

"Somebody said one day that they could write a book on leadership just by observing her and I think it's true".

One sentence that best describes the minister?

"I would say leads through guidance; hers is not to take anybody's function but to guide people towards a larger goal and an objective. She's done that not just effectively but with an amazing amount of grace and intellect and all of us need to take that forward and make everyone understand that we are all part of this machinery".

Chohan believes the next minister will find a department that is on its way to "even bigger success". But she doesn't believe the focus should be on replacing the minister with "another Dlamini Zuma".

"When the next minister comes, It will not be the same department that our minister found when she arrived. We have turned the corner and we are looking forward to bigger and better things. I don't think the issue should be replacing the minister. I think everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses; it's the capacity to harness those strengths and ensure that where it's possible, the weaknesses are turned around. Any minister who comes into this department will find the support necessary to carry forward".

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