As legal and other costs bite into his nest egg, former president Jacob Zuma appears to be shedding expensive wives and fiancées. As it is, Zuma, accused number one in the upcoming State vs Jacob Zuma and Thales, has already said he has to sell his socks to survive.
But Jacob Zuma, as his star wanes, legal fees drain his finances and former benefactors evade global arrest, appears to be cutting down on costly spousal baggage, with three women now expelled from Zuma’s home.
The first to go was Nompumelelo Ntuli, or MaNtuli, who was banished in 2015 from ever returning to the Zuma Nxamalala homestead, nestled on a gentle slope on the eastern border of the Nkandla municipality in KwaZulu-Natal.
The country’s fourth First Lady, who married Zuma in 2008, was accused of poisoning her husband and has lived a life of penniless exile in a twilight zone ever since. Even though the National Prosecuting Authority in 2019 declined to prosecute her, finding no evidence, MaNtuli remains persona non grata.
The second almost-Mrs-Zuma to face the iron curtain is the former president’s most-recent ingoduso (fiancée), 24-year-old Nonkanyiso Conco, who gave birth to Zuma’s son on his 76th birthday on 3 April 2018.
Conco lived in the luxury Ballito Hilltop Estate until she was sent packing back to her mother’s home in Eastern Cape in 2019 after incurring the wrath of the Zuma family.
“Mrs” Zuma or LaConco, as the radio presenter calls herself, was accused of shaming the ex-president by posting on Instagram that she was essentially a “single mother” who had to work hard to support their son — suggesting, of course, that Zuma was a delinquent father.
Conco has a strained relationship with her own father, Fartescue Conco, as Zuma paid lobola to Nonkaniyso’s mother’s side of the family, thus violating tradition. Fartescue warned that the wrath of the ancestors would soon be felt and so it came to pass.
Then, in a surprising turn of events in January 2020, one of Zuma’s most loyal wives (well, at least on Instagram), sixth First Lady Thobeka Madiba, was barred from visiting Nxamalala. This after she was reportedly accused by her husband of removing sim cards without his permission.
Madiba-Zuma, who married Zuma in 2010, at the height of his popularity, is an active Instagrammer and has not been shy to declare her love and devotion for her husband over the years.
For example in 2017, on their anniversary, she posted:
“It’s our Anniversary, I recall when we first met? twenty four years ago, how could I forget the way I felt when I laid my eyes on you. Knew it was someone who would change my life forever.”
However, by August 2020 things had soured as Madiba-Zuma took her husband to the maintenance court in Durban. In papers, it was revealed that the former president had not paid R14,000 a month maintenance for their 14-year-old daughter, one of the couple’s three children.
Zuma’s lawyer Eric Mabuza was at pains to point out that Madiba-Zuma “had not worked” since the birth of the daughter. It was Zuma, said Mabuza, who had supported the child over the past “13 or 14 years”.
The women Jacob Zuma chose to marry earlier in his life all made their own way, had careers and could support themselves.
Currently, as far as we know, Zuma is left with only two spouses, First First Lady, Gertrude Sizakele Khumalo-Zuma, or MaKhumalo, and Bongi Ngema-Zuma, whom he married in 2012.
Ngema-Zuma was implicated in the #Guptaleaks trove of emails as having received payment from the Gupta family for her R5.4-million Waterkloof Ridge mansion in Pretoria.
The payments were made through accounts that held kickbacks from Transnet tenders. Ngema-Zuma was also employed by the Gupta’s JIC Mining Services in 2010.
MaKhumalo is older than Jacob Zuma. They met in 1959. Four years later Zuma was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island. The couple married after his release in 1973.
Two years later, Zuma went into exile in Swaziland, which is where he met his second wife, Nkosazana Dlamini, a student activist at the time. They married in 1982.
Dlamini Zuma went on to become a medical doctor and occupied positions in the cabinets of former presidents Mandela and Mbeki. She divorced Zuma in 1998 after 16 years of marriage and four children. Today she is the country’s Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs so is no financial drain.
MaKhumalo and Zuma have no children and she has remained the matriarch of the family at Nxamalala.
She has always lived a productive rural life. She is a keen farmer and runs a spaza shop and a co-operative for women of KwaNxamalala village. Deeply devout, she is also a member of the Salvation Army.
MaKhumalo is a low-maintenance wife, forsaking the glamour of public life and not being the financial drain later wives seemed to be on the former Number One.
Kate Mantsho was Zuma’s third wife. They married in Mozambique in 1982 and had five children. Mantsho moved to Mozambique from South Africa in 1974, where she obtained a diploma in languages. She was fluent in almost all of South Africa’s official languages as well as Portuguese, German, French and ki-Swahili.
As deputy station manager of Mozambique’s airline Linhas Aéreas De Mozambique (LAM), Mantsho helped smuggle ANC cadres out of South Africa. She was a leader in her own right.
Mantsho committed suicide in 2000, leaving a devastating note addressed to her husband, whom she forbade from attending her funeral.
By then Zuma had already met Nompumelelo Ntuli, who he was to marry formally in 2008. MaNtuli, from the start, came with much baggage and a hugely demanding lifestyle.
The year of their formal nuptials was not a good one for the man who would later become president of the republic. The years prior to those, too, had been hairy, with Zuma facing an accusation of rape.
But after 2009 things began to look very bright for South Africa’s polygamist First Citizen and his wide circle of eager benefactors. He was the first president to proudly wear his custom and traditions, even if he bent the rules to suit his personal desires and accommodate an apparent limitless line-up of “girlfriends” in addition to the existing wives.
MaNtuli lived, at the start, in a massive house on Morningside’s “Millionaire’s Mile” in Durban, with the couple’s three children. The rent was paid for by the Jacob Zuma “blesser” Erwin Ullbricht, through the unregistered Nxamalala Trust.
Mrs Zuma No 4 had all her expenses taken care of by benefactors, fair-weather friends shall we say, who could easily pull the plug faster than you can say “eviction”.
Which is what happened to MaNtuli in 2010 when she almost got turfed out of the mansion. In the meantime, her domestic worker had taken her to the CCMA for flouting labour laws and general abuse.
Then there was an earlier scandal about MaNtuli’s alleged affair with her bodyguard, Phinda Thomo, who was found dead in the bath of his home in Soweto in 2009 in an apparent suicide.
So, while MaNtuli gave birth to a child after the affair with her bodyguard, maintaining that the infant was indeed the president’s, the Zuma household was troubled.
From 2009 onwards, Zuma – apart from fathering a daughter with Sonono Khoza, the daughter of soccer administrator Irvin Khoza – married two more women in quick succession.
In 2010, it was Thobeka Madiba, with whom he has three children, followed in 2012 by Ngema, who was at the time also a long-standing fiancée with whom he had a son.
In 2011, it was reported that Zuma and another long-standing ingoduso, Nonkululeko Mhlongo were preparing to tie the knot.
Mhlongo often sits with other “presidential spouses” at ceremonies and is generally regarded as part of the family. The couple first met in South Africa after Zuma’s return from exile in 1990 and their offspring arrived in 1998 and 2000.
However, despite the reports of planned nuptials, there has never been a wedding.
In 2012, MaNtuli was still part of the family, having atoned for her indiscretion with the bodyguard with the payment of a goat.
In 2013, Eshowe businesswoman Nomthandazo Mathaba-Mthembu caused a stir when she rolled up at the gates of Nklandla in a 15-car convoy under the guise of delivering gifts for an annual dance ceremony on New Year’s Day.
At the gates, it was reported, Mathaba- Mthembu’s entourage began to sing “songs of customary courtship”. Mathaba-Mthembu later said Zuma had promised to marry her. She was sent packing.
In his heyday as the country’s number one citizen, Jacob Zuma’s many wives, and some of his rumoured lovers, took turns to share the spotlight, the glory and the spoils.
But, as the sun sets on what has been termed the nine wasted and profligate years of the Zuma presidency, some of those who came along for the ride are being tossed under the proverbial bus.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people.