Nkandla – South Africa’s political and business elite as well as hundreds of villagers in traditional dress gathered on Monday in President Jacob Zuma‘s remote home village for his fifth wedding.
Three large tents were erected for the “udendwe” wedding ceremony under overcast skies in Zuma’s rural homestead in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.
During the service, his 37-year-old bride Thobeka Madiba will be introduced to the elders as well to ancestors, two years after 67-year-old Zuma paid a dowry to her family, a gift known as “ilobolo”.
Several sheep, goats and cows have already been slaughtered for the feast to follow.
Media were kept a distance from the proceedings, but buses transporting the guests were seen outside Zuma’s house. Local villagers, many dressed in animal skins and African prints, walked along muddy trails to the ceremony.
One of three first ladies
Madiba, who reportedly already has three children with Zuma, attended the president’s inauguration in May, where she was treated as one of the country’s three first ladies.
Since then, she has attended official functions and is referred to in the media as Thobeka Madiba-Zuma.
She will become his third current wife. One of Zuma’s wives, Kate Mantsho Zuma, committed suicide in 2000.
In 1998, Zuma divorced Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, but she remains in his inner circle as she is currently home affairs minister.
Even while preparations for this wedding were underway, Zuma is reportedly preparing for his sixth marriage.
Earlier this week, a gift-giving ceremony was held signalling that he had paid ilobolo for his latest fiancée, Bongi Ngema.
Zuma has also been linked to a Swazi princess, but has given no clear indication that he plans to wed her.
Monday’s wedding is to take place in private under heavy police presence, but the couple are expected to make a public appearance so that Zuma can introduce his wife to the community.
Polygamy is legally recognised in South Africa, but is mostly practised in rural areas of the country.
The practice came under the spotlight before the 2009 presidential elections, when Zuma’s polygamous lifestyle became a topic of discussion, especially amongst women’s rights activists.
Media and political analysts also debated the issue, but their attention focused mainly on logistical matters such as security arrangements and medical costs for treating his large family.
Zuma is still married to his first wife Sizakele Khumalo, whom he has known for 50 years and married in 1973.
Khumalo was given the place of honour at his inauguration in May, given higher prestige than Madiba or his other wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli Zuma, whom he married in 2008 in a lavish ceremony.
Zuma and Khumalo have no children together and she still lives in Nkandla, generally preferring to avoid the public spotlight and rarely attending official functions.
Usually Zuma brings only one wife to state functions or on overseas trips.
He is reportedly father to at least 18 children.