South Africa: Zuma’s first ladies, a real headache !

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In South Africa, the question of Zuma’s first lady is a best selling tabloid news headline and has triggered as much public interest as the identity of the biological father of the French justice minister’s (Rachida Dati) new born child. So which of the President-in-waiting’s wives or fiancées is to become South Africa’s first lady?

Zuma’s two wives, two fiancées and daughter are all currently eligible to snatch the prestigious role of South Africa’s “First Lady”, following the victory of the African National Congress (ANC) in the country’s general elections held on April 22. The South African Parliament is expected to elect Jacob Zuma, the leader of the ANC, into the highest office on May 6. But that is not what South Africans are really waiting for… Suspense is fever high as the identity of the first lady is kept under wraps.

Many traditions in Africa give impetus to all men alike to practice polygamy. Zulu men are not known to be wife-shy in the least. And Jacob Zuma, the dashing sixty-something-year-old, nicknamed “pants of love” in Zulu is a great follower of traditions. He loves to get married — albeit traditional his numerous marriages are legally binding. Out of four or so marriages, two or so of his wives are still married to him.

He married his first wife, Sizakele Khumalo, in 1973, 14 years after they had begun courting (1959). Sizakele lives in their home in KwaZulu Natal, where she takes care of her husband’s numerous children. According to sources, they (the children) number between 17 and 18. Sizakele, however, is childless. According to the South African constitution, which recognizes the legality of polygamy, she is to become first lady. However, Zuma’s childhood sweetheart f, “(his) wife – (his) sister – (his) lover – (his) mother” as he says, is frightfully shy.

The solid Sizakele Khumalo

Jacob Zuma later married Kate Mantsho, in what seems to have been a rather sad and unhappy marriage. Kate Mantsho took her life in 2000. In a suicide letter she left behind, she said married to Zuma was “24 years of hell”. She is survived by five children.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Thabo Mbeki’s government, was the third wife of the president-in-waiting. A completely emancipated woman, Nkosazana Dlamini filed for divorce in 1998. Word has it that she has been on good terms with her former husband and father of her four children and is likely to collaborate, politically, with him. Zuma initiated Nkosazana Dlamini into the world of politics.

The last of Zuma’s four official wives is known as Nompumelelo Ntuli. They married in 2008. About thirty years his junior, she basks in public appearances, a necessary quality if she wants to be the first lady of South Africa — a role that others are seriously considering.

At least, it is the case of Thobeka Mabhija, who the Sunday Times announced as the future “First lady”. She is reported to have immediately distanced herself from those claims. According to sources, Jacob Zuma paid a dowry in January to make the 35 year-old woman his fifth wife. Thobeka, reportedly, has two children with Zuma. Their last child is less than a year old.

Another potential bride or first lady is Bongi Nguema. Their relationship, which was confirmed by Zuma’s brother, Michael, has already given fruit to a son.

Jacob Zuma has the last word

Jacob Zuma, once boldly said in a television interview that he “loves” his “wives” and that he is “proud” of his “children”. But for now, chosing one of his children to become first lady could indeed deal with the headache of finding the right wife to take on the role without having to explain himself to his other wives.

26 years and a fervent supporter of her father, Dudzile Zuma, who testified on Zuma’s behalf during his rape trial in 2006, could be the lucky one.

Not the first

In fact, this is not the first time that South Africans would be faced with such a situation. After his divorce from Winnie Mandela, and before his marriage to
Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, in 1994 invited one of his daughters, Zinzi, to take on the role.

According to his close relations, Jacob Zuma reserves the right to choose his “first lady”. Unless of course, like the young Phindile Mbatha, a petty trader at the Eshowe market, close to Zuma’s village, there is no need for a first lady. Phindile who thought Zuma’s third wife, Dlamini-Zuma, is best suited for the role changed her mind when she learned they were Divorced. “Maybe the country does not really need one after all,” she said.

Jacob Zuma would not be the first President to forgo this protocol. Just like heads of governments from Saudi Arabian and the United Arab Emirates, a first lady is indeed not compulsory.

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