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Profile: Mvume Dandala
The South African bishop and HIV/Aids campaigner turned opposition candidate.
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2009 12:38 GMT

Dandala has been on the campaign trail to woo voters who barely know him as a politician [EPA]

Hamilton Mvumelwano Dandala, widely known as simply Mvume Dandala, is an equality campaigner and bishop chosen by the Congress of the People (Cope) - the African National Congress (ANC) breakaway party, to be its presidential candidate.

He was plucked from church leadership only months ago to help boost Cope's electoral chances. The party is trying to present a squeaky-clean image in contrast to the governing ANC whose leadership has been tainted by corruption scandals.

However, South Africans know Dandala as a religious leader, not as a politician and it remains to be seen what electoral advantage he will bring the Cope, which is trying to weaken the ANC's grip on power.

Political pundits admit Dandala, born on October 26 1951 in Mount Ayliffe, South Africa, is a candidate with no negative political baggage but they point out he is close to Thabo Mbeki, the former president, and shares many of his opinions, especially on Zimbabwe.

Mbeki favoured a "quiet diplomacy" approach to resolving Zimbabwe's political and economic problems, as opposed to interventionist measures.

Dandala also has a solid reputation among as a peacemaker and as a strong advocate for African social justice.

Kenya negotiations

He was involved in brokering negotiations to end the political violence in Kenya that followed a disputed election in December 2007. And he has been general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) based in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Dandala had been bishop of the Methodist Church in southern Africa before he joined the Cope. He had also been president of the South African Council of Churches from 1997 to 2003.

He is married with two grown-up children: his daughter Gqibelo works as a banker and his son, Hlomla, is a film maker.

South African media says Dandala elicits less excitement within the electorate compared to the ANC's Jacob Zuma, who is mobbed by supporters.

But, like Zuma, Dandala got involved in the anti-apartheid struggle at an early age.

He was studying at the Federal Theological seminary when he was elected local chairman of the South African Students' Organisation, which played a major role in the struggle against apartheid.

'Not new to game'

Moioua Lekota, the president of the Cope, has said of Dandala: "He is not new to the game. He was with us in the UDF [United Democratic Front] ... It is in these difficult times in our country that men of his calibre are needed."

Some say he is not exactly a political unknown as he has been a churchman to the country's politically powerful, including Walter Sisulu and Makgatho, the son of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black leader.

Dandala has also helped raise public awareness of the HIV/Aids epidemic by accepting to be tested for HIV in public. He expressed hope that other members of the church would follow suit, although it is not clear whether many South African religious leaders have done so.

Dandala has also been vocal in pressing the government to fulfil promises of reparations made at the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to bury the country's turbulent apartheid past.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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