Addis Ababa: The guessing game is over. In what was touted as the mother of all contests in the continent, South Africa`s Home Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a doctor and anti-apartheid icon, has won a tightly-contested vote to become the first woman head of the African Union (AU) Commission.
She beat the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, after several rounds of voting on Sunday night. The vote was preceded by fiercely partisan politicking and polarisation between the Francophone Africa, which was rooting for Ping, a former Gabonese foreign minister, and the Anglophone Africa, which was backing Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of South African President Jacob Zuma.
"Now we have the African Union chair Madame Zuma, who will preside over the destiny of this institution," Benin`s President and current AU chairman Thomas Boni Yayi said.
The victory of Dlamni-Zuma brings the curtains down on bitterly partisan lobbying over the post of the AU Commission chair, the executive head of the 54-nation African Union, that threatened to divide the continent that is facing festering crises in Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Guinnea-Bissau.
The South African President, who looked slightly tense and said he was keeping his fingers crossed ahead of the AU summit, was one of the first to offer his congratulations after the vote.
"It means a lot for Africa... for the continent, unity and the empowerment of women - very important," Zuma said.
As South Africa`s foreign minister for nearly a decade under Nelson Mandela`s successors Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, Dlamini-Zuma is well-known and much-esteemed in international diplomatic and political circles. The 63-year-old Dlamini-Zuma is a doctor by training and has served as health, interior and foreign minister in South Africa.
Dlamini-Zuma`s win in this highly-publicised contest, coincides with the decade of empowerment declared by the AU.
Official sources disclosed there were four rounds of voting before Dlamini-Zuma won 37 votes, three more than the required two-third majority, to get the AU`s top job.
The last election in January ended in a deadlock as neither Ping nor Dlamini-Zuma could secure the requisite two-thirds majority to make it.
In many ways, South Africa, the continent`s economic powerhouse and a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, broke the AU`s unwritten rule that the continent`s heavyweights, including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Algeria, should leave it to smaller African countries to occupy this post. But an unfazed Pretoria had launched a major diplomatic offensive to project her as the first female for the AU`s top job and a representative of the southern African region which had not got this coveted position.