Jacob Zuma faces first lady dilemma
ANC leader who looks set to be South Africa's next president may have to choose between his many wives
David Smith in Pretoria
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 23 April 2009
The voters appear to have made their choice abundantly clear in South Africa's election. Now the president-in-waiting, Jacob Zuma, must make a delicate diplomatic choice of his own: which of his wives will be the country's first lady?
When Zuma attends events such as the G20, at which the Wags attracted much attention recently, there is likely to be only one seat allocated to his spouse alongside the likes of Michelle Obama, Sarah Brown and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.
Zuma once told a television interviewer: "There are plenty of politicians who have mistresses and children that they hide so as to pretend they're monogamous. I prefer to be open. I love my wives and I'm proud of my children."
When the president of the African National Congress (ANC) voted in his rural Zulu homeland yesterday, one of his wives stood to the side watching patiently as he was mobbed by cheering crowds and reporters.
Nompumelelo Ntuli, 34, Zuma's youngest wife, was soon attracting her own crowd of admirers. Women whispered: "Isn't she beautiful!" as Ntuli, decked out in an apricot and blue tie-dye outfit, cast a smile. "Jesus is Lord!" was all she said in response to questions.
Reports conflict on how many times Zuma, 67, a Zulu traditionalist and unabashed polygamist, has married over the years. His first wife is Sizakele Khumalo, whom he has known for 50 years and married in 1973.
He wed Ntuli last year, and reportedly was married again in January to Thobeka Mabhija, a Durban socialite with whom he is said to have two children.
Two more wives are no longer with him. Kate Mantsho Zuma killed herself in 2000. He divorced the other, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, in 1998, although she remains a trusted aide and, as the country's foreign affairs minister, is expected to join his cabinet. He is said to have more than 10 children; possibly as many as 18.
South African law recognises such marriages, although fewer young South Africans are entering into them because they are seen as expensive and old-fashioned. It remains common among several tribes, however, including the Zulus and Swazis.
In the contest to be first lady, Khumalo has the seniority and experience but Ntuli has the glamour and ease in social situations. Khumalo, who presides over the family homestead near the school where Zuma voted in Kwanxamalala, rarely appears in public.
Ntuli, who uses her maiden name, as is customary in polygamous marriages to differentiate among the wives, has been more active outside the home. She organised a prayer meeting in south-eastern South Africa earlier this year, calling for political tolerance, and established a community development foundation.
ANC officials decline to comment, insisting that it is a private matter for Zuma.