South Africa on Monday claimed a major diplomatic victory as Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma won the hotly contested race to lead the African Union Commission.
The win is seen to boost South Africa's foreign policy goal of establishing itself as the continent's voice.
Dlamini-Zuma beat the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, in a closely fought election over several rounds of voting late Sunday, in what some observers took as a diplomatic coup on the French-speaking regions of Africa.
It is a "huge diplomatic victory" for the country, the region and the continent because South Africa's foreign policy is keyed into the "pursuit of the African agenda... and the promotion of human rights and democracy, good governance", said South African foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela.
Alex Vines of the British think-tank Chatham House saw the election of the seasoned diplomat as "highly significant".
"It strengthens South Africa's continental efforts to position" itself as a leader in Africa, said Vines.
Others however consider the win as a breach of an unwritten tradition that continental powerhouses do not field candidates for the top AU post, but leave smaller nations to take the job.
But her election "sets a precedent now for big African states to compete in the future for this position -- such as Egypt and Nigeria, (which) as South Africa have an eye on a Security Council seat through UN reform," Vines told AFP.
Before the vote Dlamini-Zuma, who has refused to be tagged an "English-speaking candidate" running against the French-speaking Ping, had played down concerns that the vote could divide the AU.
"I don't think the continent will be polarised," she said.
But analysts insist fissures already exist between regions in the pan-African body, while other parts of the continent don't really see themselves as belonging to Africa.
"She will face major challenges of unifying the African Union," said Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa.
"Regions in Africa play a key role in the AU in resolving conflicts. Egypt on the other hand is closer to the Middle East than the AU," said Kotze.
Vines said "Dlamini-Zuma will have to focus on rebuilding relationships, especially with a number of francophone African states".
Monyela believes the new AU Commission chief "will take Africa forward, will unite the continent."
The new job also "presents South Africa with an opportunity to establish Africa as a proponent of value-driven international relations, based on the principles of democracy and human rights," according to South Africa's main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.
Back home, President Jacob Zuma, who faces a party leadership vote in December -- and who is Dlamini-Zuma's ex-husband -- is likely to ride on his former wife's victory "domestically to demonstrate his leadership," said Vines.
The women's league of the ruling African National Congress said she will forge ahead the struggle for gender equality on the continent.
Her election as the first woman to head the organisation "speaks volumes for the gains made in fighting patriarchy on the African continent," said the league.
On the streets, Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean Derek Mtambo, 32, a freight broker, thinks "politically, she's going to mould Africa, I'm very confident."
"She's going to look at some hotspots... for example, the Zimbabwean crisis. She will tackle that one definitely," Mtambo said.