Driving up the steep driveway to park next to the guardhouse at President Jacob Zuma’s official residence in Morningside, Durban, YOU photographer Luba Lesolle and I are more than a little intimidated. I am still convinced that cameras were watching us as we drove up, but Luba insists it was my imagination. What is First Lady Tobeka Madiba-Zuma like? What will she tell us? What will she be wearing? My mind is in overdrive as we are welcomed into Dube House, formerly known as the King’s House.
We finally meet her personal assistant Khanyisile Maphumulo who arranged the interview for us. Khanyi is the consummate professional, dressed in a black power suit and heels, she shakes our hands firmly and welcomes us in. (At this point, I feel a little like I’m in an episode of the TV series The Fixer, I am not sure why.) “Ma’am is just getting ready for you, she’s just come out of an interview,” Khanyi says pleasantly.
Each of the president’s wives has a PA at their disposal. Apart from their own business interests, our first ladies are also philanthropists who have established various foundations. In Madam Zuma’s case, as she is popularly known, she heads the Tobeka Madiba-Zuma Foundation for healthcare and women empowerment – and during our interview, she does not miss the opportunity to tell us about it.
Madam Zuma is all smiles when she enters the lounge where we are to conduct the interview. Khanyi slips discreetly out of the room after offering us some refreshments. The first thing that strikes me about Madam Zuma is her drastic weight loss, she looks stunning in a fuschia figure-hugging Calvin Klein dress and dainty purple Coach kitten heels. She shakes our hands firmly and goes straight into the interview. She’s confident and articulate in her responses and a distinct sparkle appears in her eyes when she speaks about her children, stepchildren and her husband.
One minute we’re laughing hysterically as she blushes about how the President courted her, their nicknames for each other and how he once poked fun at the first ladies’ weight during one of his speeches. Then she’s serious again when we talk about how she lost a PA and friend to cancer two years ago. This strengthened her resolve in educating women in the rural areas – and their husbands – about women’s health issues. Soon we are chatting about breast self-examinations and how it is important to go for pap smears at least once a year.
Madam Zuma is vibrant and passionate and wears her heart on her sleeve. By the end of the interview I feel like I have been talking to an old friend. We end our interview with a warm hug and she is ready for the photoshoot. She poses gracefully for the camera and strikes a few easy poses. She is the first lady after all.
- Asa Sokopo