Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Zuma Presidency - Who will be first lady?

Today, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma will be sworn into office as the 4th President of post-apartheid South Africa. His political life has been full of interesting and controversial episodes - his sack as vice president, his accusation of rape and subsequent acquittal in court, his apparent ignorance of the dangers of HIV, his arraignment in court over corruption charges and finally his election to the top job despite all these odds. To say that Jacob Zuma is a colourful politician is an understatement.

As he assumes the presidency, the question bothering the minds of many Zuma watchers, especially women, will be 'Who will be his first lady?" The position of first lady is a very sensitive one. The laws of South Africa have made it very convenient for traditionalists like Zuma to be frankly and opening polygamous. In many other countries, men are ostensibly monogamous while infact they have a string of mistresses and illegitimate children whom they are often embarrassed to acknowledge when thy are in office. Jacob Zuma by being open about his polygamy does not bear this burden. He once told an 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.”

Whatever harmony there may be at the Zuma polygamous home, there will be jostling for recognition among his three wives as to who will be designated First Lady. These are the contestants. His first wife Sizakele Khumalo has been married to him since 1973. She did not bare him any children and she still lives in his village of Nkandla, Kwazulu-Natal. He has publicly praised her and she is favourite to be “first lady”. Khumalo has the seniority and experience. His second wife is Nompumelelo Ntuli Zuma who has the glamour and ease in social situations, and his third wife Thobeka Mabhija married this year, also an elegant woman known for her designer outfits.
For a start, Jacob Zuma has invited all three current wives and his nineteen children to the inauguration. Just in case you wondering how he got nineteen children given the record of wives I have indicated above, I should add that Zuma had two other marriages and besides, girlfriends also bore him children. His old flame, Minah Shongwe, has one son for him though she was never formally marrried to him. One of his earlier wives, Kate Mantsho Zuma, had five children with him but committed suicide in 2000. Another of his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, despite a divorce in 1998, remains in his inner circle as a current member of cabinet. Nkosazana is also the mother of four of his children.

President Zuma alone can make the delicate diplomatic choice - which of his wives will be the country's first lady?
Will it be:
Sizakele Khumalo?
Or Nompumelelo Ntuli?
Or Thobeka Mabhija come lately?