Africa/Middle East | Monocle

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Style leader no.43

Loud and proud

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma [South Africa]

Keep an eye on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s wardrobe during her tenure as the first woman to chair the African Union Commission. Amid infighting among the AU’s 54 member states, it took the South African veteran minister more than six months to secure the job; as she sought to win over Francophone and Nigerian sceptics, she appeared in public wearing brocaded gowns and flamboyant headgear. By October, when she took office in Addis Ababa, President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife looked positively West African. “Style is not her strongest suit,’’ says Vista Kalipa, a PR consultant for the South African fashion industry. “But it’s admirable that she wants to transcend national borders.’’

Dlamini-Zuma, 64, is a shy hard worker who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and has wasted no time in implementing her plans to transform the 11-year-old AU from a bloated institution into a lean and potentially meaningful body. Phones are now answered at HQ and summit speeches have been cut in number and length.

The new chair says her priority is to reform the institution and reduce its dependence on EU funding; she will not lose herself in the states’ crises but will delegate to mediators. It is the same approach she adopted during 17 years of running South Africa’s health, foreign affairs and home affairs ministries.

Colourful approach

  1. Tied in a knot and matching her gown, Dlamini-Zuma’s West African headgear is a departure from South African women’s penchant for western hats and bonnets.

  2. Rimless glasses occasionally perch here but there is no hiding that trademark withering look.

  3. Fine woven Ethiopian fabric, folded and carried on the left shoulder, is a sign of respect to the country that is home to the AU Commission.

  4. A pragmatic hard worker who can’t tell one accessory from another, Dlamini-Zuma always wears her conference tag in official photographs.

  5. Mali’s ambassador to Pretoria, Balladji Diakité, says that when Dlamini-Zuma was South Africa’s foreign minister he was tasked by his government with obtaining her measurements. “At summits, ministers from my country invariably present her with a boubou (gown).”

  6. Rather than palm off her briefcase on an aide, Dlamini-Zuma insists on carrying it herself.

  7. Dlamini-Zuma wears tsonga, handmade shoes from her native KwaZulu-Natal.

Back on track

South Africa [transport]

Taking the train to work in South Africa is an often difficult and dirty affair; little wonder, when 90 per cent of its commuter rolling stock was built in the 1950s. However, a consortium led by French engineering firm Alstom beat six other bids to a ZAR51bn (€4.3bn) contract to supply 3,600 new trains (similar to those that have been used in Melbourne, below) to the country’s commuter rail agency over 10 years from 2015. The deal promises more than 8,000 jobs, most of the subcontracting has been earmarked for black-owned and small to medium-sized businesses and almost ZAR800m (€67.3m) will go towards funding skills-development initiatives.

Fresh start

Lebanon [politics]

Lebanon ranks among the 50 most corrupt countries in the world but a new wave of lobbyists is fighting back. Transparency International’s local director is encouraging citizens to report corruption within government institutions, for example.

Then there’s Safe Citizen, a new NGO with MPs among its board members that is tackling endemic nuisances linked to a weak state: things such as water quality, fake prescription drugs, misleading advertising and air pollution. Such issues aren’t as grand as those rocking neighbouring Syria but they are damaging Lebanon’s image abroad.

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