Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a veteran South African politician and the first woman to lead the commission of the African Union.

The former wife of South African President Jacob Zuma was elected to head the commission, the AU's executive arm, in July 2012, replacing Jean Ping - Gabon's former long-serving foreign minister - who led the AU since 2008.

But Dlamini-Zuma's election to office was not easy.

Voters from francophone countries - former colonies of France - wanted Jean Ping to continue in the job while Anglophone states rooted for Dlamini-Zuma, leading to a stalemate.

She eventually won the election after three rounds of voting, securing 37 votes or 60 percent of the vote. In order to win, candidates are required to secure a two-thirds majority.

'Midwife to peace'

Dlamini-Zuma was born in January 1949 and is the eldest of eight children.

She has described herself as a "visionary leader with incredible passion for the African continent and its developmental ambitions".

She has worked closely with AU's predecessor, the Organisation for the African Unity (OAU), and participated in a number of OAU delegations as a "midwife to peace, stability, development and prosperity to the African continent".

Dlamini-Zuma has also led a number of peace and security initiatives to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); the Union of the Comoros and the Kingdom of Lesotho.

As she pursued her studies in the early 1970s, Dlamini-Zuma became an active underground member of the African National Congress (ANC) which had been banned for fighting the apartheid government.

At the same time, she was also a member of the South African Students Organisation and was elected as its deputy president in 1976.

'Strategic vision'

Dlamini-Zuma read Zoology and Botany at the University of Zululand, in South Africa, graduating in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in science.

But her involvement with the ANC forced her into exile in the United Kingdom before she completed her medical degree.

She resumed and completed her studies at the University of Bristol, earning a degree in medicine. She also holds a diploma in tropical child health from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Dlamini-Zuma has held senior positions in the South African government, serving as health minister for five years and as foreign minister for 10 years.

When she was elected head of the AU commission she was serving as home affairs minister.

Her work to help improve lives on the African continent has earned her recognition and she was amongst others elected

President of the UN World Conference against Racism (WCAR) in 2001.

Dlamini-Zuma has also worked as chairperson of the AU Ministers' Council (during South Africa's tenure as Chair of the AU) and has been president of the Minister's Council for the recently held UN World Summit on Sustainable Development.

She says issues that inform her strategic vision for the commission include consolidating the institution of the AU as a formidable, premier, Pan-African institution.

Source: Agencies