The race for the ANC presidency is hotting up and many would argue that Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma appears to be in the lead.
But, were she to win, her wardrobe would need some work – that is what fashion stylists believe.
Dlamini Zuma’s “I am an African” aura has been applauded in some quarters, but a hint of style and some make-up would complete the look, says Durban-based fashion stylist and commentator, Mthokozisi “Swenka” Chiyi.
Should Dlamini Zuma be elected president of the ANC in December and probably South African president in the 2019 national general elections, she will have the honour of becoming the first South African woman president.
Africa has had only three elected woman presidents, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Joyce Banda of Malawi and Ameenah Gurib Fakim of Mauritius.
Banda and Johnson Sirleaf have a similar style to Dlamini Zuma, opting for traditional African garb, while Fakim wears power suits.
Dlamini Zuma’s term as chairperson of the AU came to end last week, but she is not about to disappear from the public eye as she is very likely to succeed her ex-husband, President Jacob Zuma, as ANC president.
But other than her career and political credentials, Dlamini Zuma has always maintained a true definition of “I am an African” through her style of dress.
Whether it be at meetings, press briefings or events, she has always dressed in one style – that of voluminous, brightly coloured African attire with turbans to cover her hair.
Chiyi said it would be necessary for Dlamini Zuma to tweak her dress and add some styling too should she become president.
“A high-profile job comes with a busy schedule and I am sure that she doesn’t have much time to shop.
“If she was to become president, I would recommend that she gets a stylist, someone who would advise her on how to dress for certain occasions.
“We have always seen her in African attire, but she needs to have a variety of dresses to fit a particular event.
“Dlamini Zuma is an educated woman. However, she has remained true to her background of being a rural woman, sort of like a ‘dignified wife’ type of a person.
“She has never changed her image. If she becomes president, she would need to relate to the global stage, where we can see her in a power suit and formal dresses,” he said, pointing to British Prime Minister Theresa May as an example.
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But a total wardrobe overhaul was not necessary, Chiyi said, adding that the would-be president should add a bit of variety to her existing wardrobe.
“She is one of those down-to-earth and dignified women. There are dress styles that I would recommend for her personality.
“She has been too much of an African woman – yes, you can dress up like that, but not all the time,” he said.
Chiyi said a perm or even a dry perm would be suitable for the former medical doctor and a touch of make-up, just about enough to take away the shine from her face, would do the trick.
Stylist Thandolwethu Tsekiso said that while Dlamini Zuma’s dress style was respectable as well as bold in presentation, it could also be overwhelming at times.
“Her dress sense definitely makes her relatable, but doesn’t bring any talkability in the fashion world. There’s definitely room for a little more versatility.
“I don’t necessarily think our lady would need a make-over. But she would definitely require better co-ordination of her outfits.
“A few items need to be done away with as well as new pieces introduced which make her feel comfortable and represent Africa at the different occasions she would have to attend,” she said.
“Her wardrobe should also be representative of a leader, with sophisticated design and bold statement pieces here and there, but not too far removed and unrelatable to the people,” said Thandolwethu.
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Image consultant and stylist Aseema Kazi described Dlamini Zuma as a true representation of our rich cultural heritage.
“This is her signature style so I believe retaining her authenticity is crucial in her upcoming role. At the same time, adding updated accents to be relevant in all her international engagements is important,” said Kazi.
“While it is important to portray a strong image, one still needs to retain one’s elegance and femininity. So the idea is not to compete in a man’s world but bring a softer, nurturing aspect to the role,” Thandolwethu said.
Kazi said the idea was not to change Dlamini Zuma but to bring to the forefront the best version of who she is.
“Firstly, I would like to sit down over a cup of tea with Mama Zuma and get to know the real person at home and the image that she would like to portray socially and, more importantly, in business.
“Based on this, I would like to empower her with the correct colours, lines, fabrics, make-up and hair that is true to her identity while still being relevant to each and every event that she participates in.
“In my opinion, Mama Zuma is the perfect muse to showcase the combination of our rich, traditional African heritage with modern couture,” said Kazi.
Thanks to the popularity of distinctly African brands like Sun Goddess and Stone Cherrie in the early 2000s, African attire slowly became accessible in ready-to-wear garments that could be worn anywhere – church, work and at gala dinners.
Until then, it was generally rare to see political leaders wear traditional attire. They were mostly reserved for cultural events, state visits and traditional ceremonies.
In recent years, designers have upped their game, incorporating more contemporary fashion styles in their designs and using more African prints.
But does Dlamini Zuma have a stylist or a dedicated designer who is responsible for her ensembles?
Vukani Mthintso, the spokesman for the AU, said “no”.
Instead, she “endeavours to empower African designers, in particular African women”.
“So you will note the diversity of her wardrobe, which captures all the five regions of our continent,” said Mthintso.