, JOHANNESBURG, May 4 – South Africans have long known that Jacob Zuma would be their next president. But now they have a new question for a man married four times and with two current wives: Who’s the first lady?
Polygamy is legally recognised in South Africa, and the constitution makes no provisions for a first lady, according to Jessie Duarte, spokeswoman for the ruling African National Congress which swept last month’s general elections.
"Mr Zuma can invite any of his two wives or his daughters to official functions, depending on the occasion," she said.
His first wife is Sizakele Khumalo, whom he has known for 50 years and married in 1973. They have no children together, and she still lives in his village of Nkandla, deep in countryside of KwaZulu-Natal.
She avoids the public spotlight, generally shying away from public events and rarely attending official functions.
His second wife is Nompumelelo Ntuli Zuma, whom he married last year in a lavish wedding where they each donned leopard skins for the traditional ceremony.
At 34 years old, she is about half the age of the 67-year-old president-in-waiting and styles herself as one of the country’s leading socialites.
Since their marriage, she has been seen frequently at high-profile events and was at his side when he cast his ballot in Nkandla for the April 22 polls.
Speculation is rife in local media that the younger wife is ahead in the first lady race.
In January, newspapers were abuzz with news that Zuma had paid lobola — a traditional gift of cattle, cash or other gifts to a fiancee’s family — to marry Durban socialite Thobeka Mabhija, with whom he is said to have two children.
ANC spokeswoman Duarte denied the reports that Zuma was marrying again.
One of Zuma’s earlier wives, Kate Mantsho Zuma, committed suicide in 2000.
Despite a divorce in 1998, his former wife remains in his inner circle as a member of cabinet.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, mother of four of his 18 children, is the currently serving as foreign minister and is widely expected to remain in Zuma’s new cabinet, possibly taking over the home affairs portfolio.
Even with Zuma under an intense spotlight during the election campaign, reports differ on how many children he has and whether he is planning to marry again. He has been linked to a Swazi princess, but has given no clear indication that he plans to wed her.
Zuma himself rarely speaks about his personal life, though he does not try to hide his love life either.
"There are plenty of politicians who have mistresses and children who they hide so as to pretend they’re monogamous. I prefer to be open. I love my wives and I’m proud of my children," he once said in a television interview.
And his children may provide him a way out of the first lady dilemma. Zuma’s daughter Duduzile is often seen with her father and could step into the first lady role at the inauguration Saturday.
He has solid precedent for that: Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zinzi accompanied him to his inauguration in 1994, as he was divorcing his second wife Winnie but had not yet married his third, Mozambique’s former first lady and independence icon Graca Machel.