Posted on December 31, 2007

What Others Say

Charles Onyango-Obbo, Daily Nation (Nairobi), Dec. 27, 2007

THERE IS OLD SCHOOL, there’s the African Big Man . . . and then there’s Comrade Jacob Gedleyihiekisa Zuma, who last week won the presidency of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC).

The boisterous and populist leader’s reputation took a beating last year when he was charged with raping an HIV positive family friend. He was acquitted.

Having wrested the leadership of the ANC from Thabo Mbeki, unless he is convicted of corruption given that fresh charges are being brought against him, Zuma is all but assured of becoming South Africa’s president in 2009.

With that prospect looming, far-sighted observers are already contemplating what The Times (London) called a “pressing problem”. That is, which of Zuma’s many wives, not to mention mistresses, would be the First Lady?

An “unashamed Zulu traditionalist” (according to the Times), Zuma is quite happy to admit publicly that he is a polygamist.

He has recognised at least 18 children from “four official” marriages and several girlfriends. Two children have been born to him since his acquittal in the rape trial.

Zuma still does like some of our more old-fashioned fathers used to do. He has a “village wife”, Sizakele Khumalo. She is the presumed “No 1”, and lives at his homestead in Nklanda, Kwazulu-Natal. He has no children with her.

The “city wife” is Mantuli Zuma, who married the big man five years ago. They have two children. Then there was Kabe Zuma. They had five children. She committed suicide in 2000.

Diamini Zuma couldn’t take his ways much longer. They divorced in 1998. They have four daughters. She is now Foreign minister and, not surprisingly, a Mbeki ally.

He has a true town wife in the person of Thobeca Stacy Mabhija, with whom he has two children. With a name like that, small wonder she works at a mobile phone company. The Times describes her as an elegant woman known for her designer outfits.

As with very many men, there is an old-flame, Minah Shongwe, in the frame. She has a son with Zuma.

Comrade Zuma, by the way, is 65. Truly impressive that he still has so much energy at that age.