The relationship between former president Jacob Zuma and his bride-to-be, Nonkanyiso Conco, has been a closely guarded secret since he first set eyes on her at the reed dance more than five years ago.
Zuma was charmed by Conco, 24, from Matolweni village in Matatiele on the border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, when he met the then 19-year-old at the ceremony in Nongoma in northern KwaZulu-Natal. But it was only in 2016 that Zuma endeared himself to his new in-laws by paying lobola for Conco.
The young woman has had to resign from her job as national executive committee treasurer and communications officer at the nonprofit organisation She Conquers. The women’s empowerment organisation accused her of failing to disclose her relationship with Zuma, saying she “was not transparent about their affiliation”.
Conco also worked for a graphic design company that did work for, among others, the Tobeka Madiba Zuma Foundation. Conco is the 15th woman to be impregnated by Zuma, according to official records. This means unofficially the number of impregnated woman could be much higher. Conco's child is also Zuma's 23rd child.
In an interview with the Sunday Times in Matatiele on Friday, Conco’s uncle Wele Dolomba said as a family they were very happy to have the former president as their son-in-law.
“What we are happy about is that my niece listened to her mother’s teachings and behaved herself and that’s why she got good results and was seen by the former president. This is her first and last man,” said Dolomba.
He said Conco only told the family about her relationship with Zuma in 2016 and that was when the family threw her a ceremony to celebrate her good behaviour.
The Sunday Times has established that it was Zuma who wanted to keep their relationship under wraps until he stepped down as president.
“They have been together for five years. She had come back from the reed dance in 2016 when she informed the family about their relationship,” said Dolomba. He described his niece as “a friendly person who likes people”.
Conco has religiously participated in the reed dance, where young girls present reeds to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to declare their virginity.
Zuma has often attended the annual event, which takes place in spring at King Zwelithini’s Enyokeni palace.
“She only got pregnant after Zuma had paid lobola for her. And that tells you she is well-behaved and that’s why as family we decided to celebrate her good behaviour by throwing her a ceremony,” he said.
Conco, a former massage parlour owner, gave birth to Zuma’s son on his 76th birthday this month. She has been visiting Zuma’s Nkandla homestead since she was 19.
Her family would not reveal when the couple would walk down the aisle. “The family is still going to meet about that,” said her uncle.
Dolomba criticised those who have made a fuss about the 51-year age gap between Zuma and Conco.
“What matters in a relationship is love and not age. I don’t know why people are making comparisons in terms of age.”
Conco’s mother, Nombuso Mokoena, who was present during the interview, declined to comment because of what she said were “misleading reports” about her daughter.
Conco’s brother Thanduxolo said: “Whatever has happened was meant to be. She has a lot of love. You can’t choose for her who to love. We’re very happy about their relationship.”
He said Zuma had sent four envoys from Nkandla to negotiate lobola on his behalf.
Zuma’s family spokesman, Ray Zuma, confirmed that lobola had been paid, but would not to comment on the amount.
He said that no date had yet been set for the nuptials “and it is not your problem. It is the family’s problem. You are supposed to be focusing on the current president, not the former one.”
You can’t choose for her who to love. We’re very happy about it Thanduxolo Conco Nonkanyiso Conco’s brother.
– Sunday Times