Protocol Headache! 4 First Ladies in South Africa as Zuma Marries Again
South Africa's polygamist President Jacob Zuma marries again this weekend, officially giving the country four first ladies and an even bigger protocol headache.
Durban-born businesswoman Bongi Ngema will tie the knot with Zuma, 70, in his home village of Nkandla, in a traditional Zulu ceremony recognized under South Africa's broad legal system.
This weekend will be his third marriage in four years, but despite the enormous public interest, details on his weddings, wives and 21 children are a closely guarded secret.
"I can't divulge details about their private information," said his spokesman Mac Maharaj when asked the age of his wives.
"I have to respect their rights within the South African bill of the rights of the individuals involved and even of children. I have to respect their privacy and that's been my appeal."
The country has no legally defined "First Lady,” although the government provides Zuma's wives with secretaries and office support.
Zuma is South Africa's first polygamous president, and protocol has been decided along the way.
His fiancees have been treated as first ladies once Zuma paid "lobola" -- a gift, usually of cattle or cash, to the bride's family, cementing the engagement.
On travels abroad, he usually brings one wife or fiancee, using an informal rotation. At major events, like his inauguration, all his current wives and fiancees attend, with the place of honor going to his first wife, Sizakele Khumalo.
They met more than 50 years ago and married in 1973. They have no children together, and she still lives in Nkandla, deep in the countryside of KwaZulu-Natal.
She prefers her village life to the spotlight, generally shying away from public events and rarely attending official functions.
His second wife is Nompumelelo Ntuli Zuma, whom he married in 2008 in a lavish wedding where they each donned leopard skins to dance for the traditional ceremony.
She is about half the age of the 70-year-old president and styles herself as one of the country's leading socialites.
In January 2010, Zuma married Thobeka Madiba, also about 30 years his junior.
Their wedding sparked controversy not because of Zuma's polygamy, but because he fathered a child with the 39-year-old daughter of the local World Cup boss just three months earlier.
The scandal that erupted forced Zuma to issue a statement apologizing to the nation for "the pain that I have caused."
Zuma has also had two other wives.
One, Kate Mantsho, committed suicide in 2000. In 1998 he divorced Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who remains in his inner circle and is currently South Africa's home affairs minister and candidate to head the African Union.
He has also been linked to a Swazi princess, but has given no clear indication that he plans to wed her. Other reports have named him as the father of children by two other women.
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," he once said in a television interview.
"I prefer to be open. I love my wives and I'm proud of my children."
Asked at his 70th birthday party last weekend whether he was done with marriage, Zuma replied, "I think so."