He’d already married four times - Gertrude Sizakele Khumalo, Kate Mantsho, Nkosazana Dlamini and Nompumelelo Ntuli. Recently President JACOB ZUMA made it five, marrying 37-year-old THOBEKA MADIBA, with whom he has three children. And he might soon take a sixth wife as he has paid lobola for Gloria Bongi Ngema.
Kate died nine years ago and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, currently minister of home affairs, divorced him. Cultural experts say as long as Zuma (68) can pay lobola he can take as many wives as he wishes.
“He’s an important man,” says the Reverend Moses Twala, a cultural traditionalist. “It’s important to him to have lots of children and for that he needs many wives.” Twala approves of the president’s polygamy and says if it’s accepted as part of African culture there might be less disapproval.
But most critics are women of the same culture. In fact most South Africans frown on polygamy, according to a study done last year. Researcher Neil Higgs says women especially disapprove of a man having more than one wife. Eighty per cent of black women questioned said they didn’t like it.
Polygamy is legal in SA in terms of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998, says Professor Rita-Marie Jansen of the University of the Free State. It gives customary marriages, including polygamy, the same legal standing as civil marriages.
The original aim was to ensure a man had many children but it also goes with status. A rich man can afford more wives, says Professor Chris van Vuuren at the University of South Africa. “There’s a saying ‘cattle beget children’ which means if you can pay lobola with cattle you can have many wives, which takes care of having lots of children.”
Twala adds a man must have good reason to take more than one wife - he can’t do it for sexual reasons. “He must be able to prove he needs many children. Zuma is a prominent man and has to have a large progeny.”