Never call me Ben 10: Ntobeko Linda (23) tells his sugar mama Zodwa Wabantu (34)

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SHE struts into the room in a sleeveless, maroon minidress that displays her famous legs and walks up to the two most important people in her life right now. Her son, Vuyo Libram (13), and bae, Ntobeko Linda (23), are already waiting for her at the hotel in Birchwood where we’ve arranged to meet.

Zodwa Wabantu (34) exchanges an intimate look with Ntobeko, the guy she “unveiled” on social media recently to much ridicule.

She doesn’t care though because she’s living her best life. She’s used to being called names, to having people police how she dresses and criticise her lifestyle and how she makes her money so she’s hardly about to let people calling her a “cougar” get in the way of her love life.

“I don’t care what people say about me. It doesn’t affect me or my relationship,” she says.

It’s evident these two are head over heels in love. They keep glancing at each other, hold hands constantly and he’s forever telling her she’s “beautiful.”

The couple met in 2013 at a chill spot in Durban but started dating only the following year.

“We started as friends,” Ntobeko says. “It’s not like I went up to her and said ‘I love you’.”

It’s been four years of bliss and they’re still going strong but they have been criticised for their 11year age gap, especially after Zodwa – whose real name is Zodwa Libram – posted a lovedup picture on her Instagram account in October thanking Ntobeko for being with her through the ups and downs.

“People can say whatever they want but I love my boyfriend,” she says. “He is not cheating on me and he respects me.”

Ntobeko says their age gap doesn’t mean anything. “Understanding knows no age. People can call me a Ben 10, I really don’t care. I am not going to confront them. As long as Zodwa doesn’t call me a Ben 10, I’m fine.”

He’ll continue loving his girl, he adds. “I love Zodwa because she takes me out of my comfort zone. She loves going out and I’m the opposite. She also loves hitting the dance floor and I can’t dance.”

Plus, he continues, she’s a social person while he works at a bank in Durban “but it all works for us”, he says.

ZODWA launched her career three years ago as a regular patron at Eyadini Lounge in Durban.

She danced, swayed and kept her audiences captivated with her amazing ability to get down on the dance floor without spilling a drop of alcohol.

Since then she’s been featured in music videos and she’ll be shooting her own reality show about all things Zodwa Wabantu in January.

“I’ve signed the contract,” she says, holding up a copy of the document on her cellphone.

Yet despite her increasingly high profile she’s still the same person she was when she met Ntobeko, she insists.

The two of them have similar backgrounds and they understand each other better because of it.

Zodwa was raised by her grandmother in Soweto and didn’t know her father.

Ntobeko was also raised in a single-parent home. “We both grew up struggling without much. We used to go out with only R100 in our pockets,” she says.

He picks up the story. “I liked that she wasn’t too high class. She didn’t expect anything from me and I didn’t expect anything from her either.”

He’s been accused of being with Zodwa for her money, Ntobeko says, but he doesn’t get why people would think that.

“I think it is absurd. It’s like saying Michelle Obama is with Barack because of his money. It doesn’t make sense. I started dating Zodwa when she had nothing but again, everyone is entitled to their opinions.”

He’s serious about the relationship, he says. Zodwa has even been introduced to Ntobeko’s mother, Nokukhanya Linda (43), and she approves of the relationship.

“My mother has never been someone who tells me how to live my life. When I introduced Zodwa, she said even if she is older, as long I am happy that’s all that matters,” he says.

Zodwa brings out the best in him and challenges him to try new things while she loves “his calmness” and the way he relaxes her.

The couple have discussed marriage and having children but Ntobeko says Zodwa “doesn’t want to get married”.

She jumps in quickly – she isn’t altogether against the idea, she says. “Who knows, maybe I am going to marry him on my show,” she adds.

ZODWA might be known for her outgoing and fun nature out on the streets but at home she’s a strict mother to Vuyo. She had Vuyo when she was 21 and he’s been living with his paternal family since he was six months old.

Zodwa’s late grandmother used to sell alcohol, cigarettes and beef head meat in Soweto’s Dlamini section and felt the environment wasn’t conducive to raising a child.

“My family house wasn’t a shebeen with loud music but my grandmother was selling alcohol to put food on the table. It just wasn’t a good place to raise a baby,” she says.

Zodwa’s decision to give her son to his paternal grandmother caused a lot of conflict.

“My family accused me of giving the baby away and they called me a bad mother but I had to do what’s best for my son’s future,” Zodwa explains. She doesn’t regret her decision at all. “I was still part of his life. I would hustle and buy him clothes and contribute towards his other needs, like crèche.”

Vuyo says he loves his mother and the controversy that surrounds them doesn’t change the way he feels about her “but at school it’s awkward when they ask me who my mother is”, the Grade 7 learner admits.

His grandmother, Bukelwa Mkalali (67), tells him to ignore what people say and he accepts his mom the way she is. “The way she dresses up is her style and it doesn’t affect me,” he says.

Vuyo doesn’t spend much time with his mother because she’s “always working” but he enjoys hanging with Ntobeko, who is “a nice person”.

Zodwa is pleased the two guys get on but adds she doesn’t put any pressure on them. “I don’t want to force Vuyo on him. I introduced them and they do things to-

gether but it’s not like I’m forcing him to do anything.”

She’s quite hard on her son, Zodwa admits, but it’s because she doesn’t want him to get spoilt to the point where he feels entitled.

“His [paternal] family is well off and they take good care of him. He goes to a good school and they spoil him. When he’s with me, he knows he needs to behave.”

Vuyo looks good in his denim shorts, denim jacket and T-shirt but his Adidas slip-on sandals are stitched up.

“He must feel that life is not easy and I don’t want him to have it easy. I want him to know the township struggle and understand life is not a walk in the park,” his mom says.

Although some people think Zodwa is being too hard on her son she believes it’s for his own good. “His father’s family always criticises me for being hard on him and making him struggle the way I did but he is my son and I will do what I want,” Zodwa says. “His school shoes must last him as long as I want. Just because I am famous, expectations are too high.”

Zodwa recently reunited with her family after falling out with various relatives when they mistreated her, she claims, and called her a slut but that’s now all in the past.

She’s building a spaza shop for her aunt, Nana Mlotshwa, in Mpumalanga and a house for herself. “I went back to them because I can take care of them now. They are the ones who will bury me after all this. My friends won’t bury me but my family will.”

DANCING has taken her places she never thought she’d see. She’s been booked in the USA, Australia and recently in Dubai. She loved her first visit to Dubai, where she performed at the African-themed restaurant Kiza.

“I went shopping for perfumes for my boyfriend and DJ Tira. I also bought myself clothes to wear on stage,” she says – and she can certainly afford it.

She tells us she’s gone from charging R10 000 for a gig to R45 000. Sometimes she charges up to R70 000, depending on the sponsors – just to do her famous “vosho” moves.

She’s still in demand even though she doesn’t receive a welcome reception everywhere – such as when she was banned from performing in Zimbabwe last year when Zim actress Anne Nhira complained she was “not Zimbabwean”, “dressed skimpily” and “was a lesbian”.

“I still get invites to perform in Zimbabwe but I don’t have time to waste. I have other important things to do and past mistakes to fix than going to Zimbabwe,” Zodwa says cheekily.

Business is good but she’s still adjusting to the down side of the entertainment industry. She has lost a lot of friends and doesn’t have privacy anymore.

“I don’t have friends anymore because of jealousy. They refused to accept things have changed and they must respect that. I would buy them Brazilian weaves that I don’t even wear, I would buy them clothes and drinks but still they became too demanding and had no respect for me,” she says.

She feared their jealousy would drive them to a point where they are tempted to frame her just to bring her down.

“I felt they were capable of even planting drugs in my travelling bags because of jealousy,” Zodwa elaborates, so she let them go and is instead trying to focus on what comes next, including her reality show.

“It will focus on all things Zodwa,” she explains. “Her work ethic, how she’s afraid of poverty and her goals in life.”

She won’t be popping any champagne on the show, though. “My life is not glamorous,” she insists, even though she’s been able to buy an Audi A4 with cash.

“Even when Tira puts R200 000 in my account I don’t go crazy. I need to have money for my son’s education. I want to buy my son a car when he turns 18.”

His future is all she cares about right now.

“I don’t care about me anymore because I’m a reject of life,” Zodwa says, but the fact that she’s happy, is in demand and is providing well for her son’s future would seem to indicate otherwise.

– Drum


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