So that others may live

2009-09-03 15:45

DUDUZILE Zuma (27) was born in Mozambique, where she and her family – mother Kate Zuma, older brother Mxolisi Saady, twin brother Duduzani, younger sister and brother Phumzile and Nhlakanipho Vusi – were based while in exile.

According to Duduzile, theirs was a normal childhood filled with days of playing in the streets with children from their community and attending the local school where they were taught mainly in ­Portuguese.

“One day, my father put his foot down and insisted we learn English because he couldn’t communicate with us in Portuguese,” she ­remembers.

After 10 years in Mozambique, the family relocated to Zimbabwe, where they stayed until 1993. They then moved to South Africa, where, she says, things changed.

“I always knew my father was an active politician because he travelled a lot. I just didn’t know the rank until we came to live in South Africa.” That is when Duduzile started noticing that she and her siblings were treated differently at school because her ­father was “on TV”.

She says her mother, Kate (President Jacob Zuma’ second wife) was a conventional mother who cooked, cleaned and made them do their chores when necessary.

“She was a very cool, hands-on mum. In some ways she was traditional, but in others she was not. We could talk about anything, like my boyfriends, plus she had a great sense of humour.”

Duduzile says her mother dedicated most of her time to her career, first at the airline that she worked for and later when she opened her own travel agency.

“Working at the agency was actually my first job. If we didn’t have any extramural activities after school, my brothers, sisters and I would go to her office to help out.”

However, despite being described by her daughter as a “happy, fun- ­loving person and full of life”, 44-year-old Kate took her own life on a fateful ­Friday morning in December 2000, by overdosing on malaria tablets.

It is believed she was depressed ­because of strained relations with her husband, allegations supported by a suicide note she left behind where she described her years of marriage as “24 years of hell”.

“None of us had any idea that our mother would commit suicide. The night before, she was just her usual happy self when we said our ­good nights and went to bed,” says Duduzile, who was 17 at the time.

“I didn’t resent my mother for ­taking her own life because I was old enough to understand that maybe there were issues in her life that we, as children, didn’t understand. We also didn’t blame ourselves, because it was not about us,” she adds.

“In hindsight, I could see the signs now that I know better. As much as I’d like to have believed otherwise, not every relationship is perfect.”

After her mother’s death, Duduzile says she and her siblings became closer and helped each other through the tough times. “We also had ­supportive schoolmates and teachers who were sensitive to the fact that our mother had died. No one was ­intrusive in any way.

“We also learnt to be stronger from it and that we shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about it. Yes, it happened to a high-profile woman, but that made people aware of the issue.”

Duduzile says because of the spotlight people still shine on her mother’s suicide, she has decided to use it to foster awareness about preventing suicide through her own organisation, the Duduzile Zuma Foundation.

“I have always wanted to do something like this. My mother’s suicide is public knowledge and this provides the perfect platform to talk about it. My younger sister introduced me to the people at Sadag (South African Depression and Anxiety Group).”

Duduzile is now Sadag’s ambassador for Suicide Awareness Day on September 10. She will be visiting schools, hold workshops about dealing with stress and engage in motivational speaking.

“It’s even more important to talk about it now because we’re approaching the end of the year when there are many vulnerable people, from students worrying about exam results to adults who now realise how much the recession will affect their spending habits during the festive season.”

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