IT’S the most talked about union of the year: one of the most powerful politicians in South Africa is set to wed a young maiden who was a staunch promoter of virginity testing – after she gave birth to his secret love child.
Jacob Zuma is a well-known practising polygamist, yet tongues are wagging because the former father of the nation is 50 years older than his rumoured fiancée, Nonkanyiso Conco. Their relationship recently came to light when Nonkanyiso (26) confirmed she had given birth to Zuma’s son, Sakhumuzi Zuma, on his 76th birthday in April.
South Africans were still shocked at what is believed to be the birth of the former statesman’s 23rd child when the next bombshell dropped: Zuma would tie the knot with the young woman he had been secretly dating. This will be Zuma’s seventh marriage and the first for Nonkanyiso, who Zuma met when she was 19. However, details about the wedding have been sketchy, and DRUM set out to uncover more about the former president’s future makoti.
When news of the baby broke, Zuma’s family spokesperson, Ray Zuma, told media the families still need to come together to set a wedding date, but in an exclusive interview the bride-to-be’s father tells DRUM Zuma first needs to follow custom. Fartescue Conco (88) says he hasn’t been approached for lobola negotiations but he knows what he wants. “I expect 11 cows for my daughter – that’s tradition.”
We meet the elderly man at his home in KwaPata, Pietermaritzburg under the watchful eye of his wife. She isn’t happy her husband is opening up to the media and threatens to set the family’s large white dog loose.
But Fartescue is eager to chat and even poses for a few pictures. He hasn’t seen his daughter in a couple of years, he says, and heard the news only when her picture was plastered all over the media when rumours of the impending wedding surfaced.
“My daughter was a virgin and Zuma took her virginity,” he candidly says. “I want him to cleanse my house as per the custom. I have no problem with who she dates because she’s old enough but if he wants to marry her he must be prepared to pay 11 cows,” he insists.
While Zuma “hasn’t paid a cent” for his daughter, Fartescue is looking forward to being father-in-law to the man just 12 years younger than him.
He’s a Zuma supporter and doesn’t see why people are making a big deal about his daughter’s relationship with the elderly politician. “Why is it a problem, it’s his private life,” he says, clearly irritated.
“My daughter wasn’t forced to sleep with him. This is just another smear campaign. People are trying everything to have him jailed.”
He hasn’t talked to his daughter about their relationship. “Zuma and Nonkanyiso are kids and I don’t discuss such things with kids.” But Fartescue says he’ll get involved once it gets to lobola stages.
THE old man has always had a soft spot for his daughter. Nonkanyiso is the only child he shares with Nombuso, her mother. Fartescue, a former bus driver, raised the little girl in Matatiele after he split from Nombuso. When Nonkanyiso was in matric she moved in with her mother and stepfather in Pietermaritzburg where she attended Haythorne Secondary School.
By then, Fartescue says, she had al- ready joined the Nomkhubulwane Culture and Youth Development Organisation.
He had encouraged his daughter to join the non-profit organisation that promotes virginity testing when she was around 12 years old because “I didn’t want men to take advantage of her”.
Nonkanyiso met Zuma, then 70, at the annual Inkosi Matomela celebrations in Greytown in 2012, her cousin Thoko Biyase (26) says.
Thoko, who is also a Nomkhubulwane maiden, says she was at the ceremony to honour Inkosi Matomela, the great-grandfather of the Zuma clan. “As maidens we are usually invited to be part of these celebrations.”
She says Zuma, who was president at the time, “liked” Nonkanyiso when he spotted her in the throng. “Due to the nature of the celebrations Mr Zuma couldn’t get her number and asked one of his relatives, the chief of iMpendle, Simphiwe Zuma, to get her contact numbers for him.”
‘My daughter was a virgin and Zuma took her virginity’
Simphiwe, whose mom is also a Conco, confirms Zuma met Nonkanyiso at the 2012 celebrations but denies hooking them up.
“I don’t know how or when they started seeing each other. Zuma is a father figure and I wouldn’t dare discuss his dating life with him, that would be disrespectful of me,” he says.
Nonkanyiso told her three years ago she started dating Zuma, Thoko says. At first she didn’t believe her cousin but she says Nonkanyiso showed her proof.
“She’d send me photos of them together at various hotels. I also know she used to visit Zuma’s homestead at eNkandla. I was both shocked and happy for her. I just didn’t know how to react to the news.”
It was around this time Nonkanyiso’s neighbours say they noticed a change in the family’s lifestyle. “Her mother used to brag her daughter is dating the president.”
The neighbour, who declined to be named, adds they believed Nombuso because soon after that their lives changed dramatically. “She changes cars like socks. Nonkanyiso even threw a huge party here at Lugada for her mother and her stepfather.”
Thoko says she knew her cousin’s relationship with the prominent politician would draw attention and she initially discouraged Nonkanyiso from dating him. “I even tried to convince her to get another boyfriend but she told me she loved Mr Zuma. Mr Zuma was her first boyfriend and they loved each other a lot.”
EVERYTHING happened so fast, Thoko says – before she knew it Nonkanyiso stopped attending Nomkhubulwane classes and she no longer went for virginity testing. Although Nonkanyiso didn’t share the intimate details of her relationship with Zuma, she did show Thoko an engagement ring apparently from the former president. “She threw a huge party at our home last year where she announced she was engaged to Mr Zuma.”
Thoko says Zuma didn’t attend the party and was never introduced to the maidens, “yet she already had an engagement ring on her finger”.
She thinks the purpose of the party was for Nonkanyiso to bid farewell to the Nomkhubulwane maidens, but Thoko says Nonkanyiso flouted tradition.
“As the family and maidens we were disappointed because that’s not how we were taught at Nomkhubulwane. This has tarnished our name as Nomkhubulwane maidens.”
Nomkhubulwane founder Nomagugu Ngobese is livid at reports linking Nonkanyiso to her organisation. “I’m angry because falling pregnant outside mar- riage goes against what I teach the maidens.
“I teach them that once a girl reaches a certain age and finishes school she can start dating. But this doesn’t happen automatically – a guy who wants to date or get married to one of the maidens has to come forward and be introduced to all the maidens. It has to be public, not a secret.”
The formal introduction of a suitor doesn’t give maidens permission to have sex, Nomagugu adds furiously. “It’s meant to formalise the courtship between a man and a woman. They still have to wait until they get married.
“In this case that never happened as Nonkanyiso just disappeared,” she continues. “We last saw her three years ago.
“I honestly have nothing to do with her,” she fumes. Nomagugu also wants to set the record straight on reports Nonkanyiso worked for the NGO. “She was never a director as claimed but a mere participant.”
Thoko says she’s appealed to her cousin to apologise to Nomagugu, but her efforts have all been in vain. She hasn’t seen Nonkanyiso in over a year but says she’s been in contact with her cousin who now lives in upmarket Ballito.
“I’ve been telling her she needs to apologise to Nomagugu and possibly the maidens for falling pregnant outside of
‘She made it clear she will not be apologising to anyone’
marriage but she refused,” Thoko says. “She made it clear she will not be apologising to anyone.”
Like Thoko, Nomagugu is disappointed and says Nonkanyiso broke all their rules, but her father quickly jumps to her defence. “I’m proud she listened to me and remained pure until she chose the right person for herself,” Fartescue says.
“She’s now over age and she can do as she pleases.
WHILE the 50-year age gap between Zuma and Nonkanyiso has raised eyebrows in some circles, others feel it’s a cultural norm. Zuma’s chief negotiator, Joseph Zuma, who helped negotiate the lobola payment for Zuma’s last wife, Bongi Ngema-Zuma, in 2012, welcomes the future makoti.
“Traditionally the wife has to be young, more so in this case because the current wives are older, hence they need assistance from a younger person.
“If he were to get married again, especially to this young one, Ngingagiya ngize
ngiqhephuke ( I would dance until I drop),” he says. “In our culture we call this Indlu yoku
gugela (The home in which I’ll age) and there’s nothing wrong or embarrassing about it.”
However, Joseph says he hasn’t been part of the lobola negotiations for Nonkanyiso. “If there were such proceedings I’d be the first to know. I’m one of the elders in the Nxamalala clan and he’s one of my brothers. I’m the one who normal- ly leads lobola negotiations for him.
“At this stage no lobola negotiations have taken place and nothing has been discussed with me.”
When we called Zuma’s family spokesperson, Ray Zuma, he declined to shed light on the matter. “This has got nothing to do with the media and I’m not going to entertain any of your questions,” he said before hanging up.
Mdelile Ngcobo, the headman of Lugada in Matatiele, Eastern Cape, says he learned about Zuma and Nonkanyiso’s relationship three years ago but he too hasn’t been consulted about lobola negotiations.
“I don’t know the girl but I know her mother. They fall directly under my traditional leadership. Traditionally, if there were lobola negotiations I’d have been consulted but in this case I know nothing about it.”
Nonkanyiso’s mother, Nombuso, and her stepfather, who identified himself only as Mr Sgwebedlana, are also tightlipped on the matter when we approach them for clarity. “As Africans we don’t discuss”such things with media,” Mr Sgwebedlana says firmly.
With the cloud of confusion hanging over their lobola negotiations, it remains to be seen if Zuma will wed Nonkanyiso.
And if there’s one person rooting for the lovebirds it’s her father. “I have no problem with her marrying Zuma,” Fartescue says. “They must just follow tradition.”