Fear and loathing (and zipped lips) in Nkandla

2010-06-06 09:58

For the hundreds of small towns and villages scattered across the

furthest reaches of northern Zululand, life revolves around pension day.

An air

of festivity mingles with the musty smell of desperation as the townsfolk, many

desperately poor and wholly reliant on government grants, help the throngs of

men and women, their bodies curved and bent with age, make their way up the


Lining the main street which leads to the payout point, hawkers sit

alongside rickety stalls piled high with vegetables, freshly cut slabs of meat,

second-hand clothes and transistor radio batteries.

This was the scene this Thursday at Nkandla as the news broke in

faraway Durban of the alleged infidelity of the First Lady, Nompumelelo Ntuli,

popularly known as MaNtuli.

By 6am the first edition of the Zulu­language daily, Ilanga, had

already hit the streets with its bold headline: “Kuvela ­ezishaqisayo ngo Zuma

no MaNtuli: (Shocking revelations about Zuma and MaNtuli).

By midday the details of the salacious story had been re-tweeted

and become the subject of excited water-cooler talk around the country. But in

Nkandla, the family seat of the virile patriarch-turned-alleged-cuckold, most

hadn’t heard.

Until it became famous as the hometown of Zuma, life in Nkandla had

gone on as it had for decades: simply.

The village was poor, isolated and underdeveloped, like its

neighbours. Debates around politics, ethnicity and governance were as remote and

as far removed as Pretoria was in distance. Nobody cared what the people of

Nkandla thought.

But it has all changed since the days of Zuma, who has turned

the “simple man from Nkandla” motif into his virtual trademark.

Now everybody, including the world’s media, cares what the people

of Nkandla think and feel on any given issue, from the rising price of maize

meal to the impact of the last G12 summit.

The locals have become accustomed to seeing hacks in multi-pocketed

waistcoats hanging around the post office or whizzing by in 4X4s.

We were the lone pair of journalists skulking around Nkandla on

Thursday morning – but for a change nobody wanted to talk. Those who knew

something spoke in whispers, as if The Big Man himself was leaning over their


“ Nxx !’. With a click of her tongue and impatient toss of her head

an old woman shooed us away and shuffled off. She had neither heard nor was

interested in what the newspapers had to say.

A group of old men sheltering from the sun under some tarpaulin

were shocked when we showed them a copy of Ilanga.

They shook their heads in disapproval but offered no opinion.


any event, to do so and speculate on something as culturally sensitive as

another man’s pregnant wife would be the ultimate taboo.

A schoolteacher outside the offices of the Jacob Zuma Education

Trust was the first person we met who had read the morning’s papers. She shook

her head.

“I’ve heard she (MaNtuli) was disrespectful of u-Mama… (Zuma’s

first wife, Sizakhele Khumalo),” she said.

This, it seems, was enough of a confirmation for her that Zuma’s

second wife was “no good”. Ma Khumalo is like royalty in these parts, both BZ

(Before Zuma) and DZ (During Zuma).

Her community work, her efforts to uplift local women in

particular, and her gardening project are spoken of with reverence by the local

women. In Ma Khumalo they see a simple woman like them who shies away from the

spotlight and has no airs and graces.

The subtext among the women (only women wanted to speak) was that

Ma Khumalo was not like “them”, namely the two younger wives with all their

uppity big city ways, fancy outfits and their English.

A well-nourished young woman with a deep throaty laugh appeared

unsurprised when told the alleged culprit was Zuma’s second wife.

The woman, who

works at one of Ma Khumalo’s gardening projects, said she had long heard the

rumour that MaNtuli was not all that she seemed.

For one, she’d heard the First Lady was not a qualified nurse as is

widely believed but once occupied a far lower station, perhaps as a domestic

worker or cleaner.

“Ayi, uyazigqaja! ” (she is full of herself) she shouted, slapping

her hands together before displaying an unsettlingly smug smile.

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