AMID growing controversy over his polygamy and philandering, Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, yesterday apologised for fathering an illegitimate child.
He said: “I deeply regret the pain that I have caused to my family, the ANC (African National Congress) and South Africans in general.”
Since becoming president last May, Zuma, 67, has taken a fifth wife, Thobeka Madiba, who will accompany him to Buckingham Palace for his state visit to Britain next month, has fathered an illegitimate child by a mistress and has started work on a £5.4m expansion of his home.
His latest baby, his 20th, was born to Sonono Khoza, 39, the daughter of Irvin Khoza, chairman of the country’s 2010 World Cup organising committee. On the birth certificate of Thandekile, their four-month-old daughter, the parents claim to have contracted a “customary marriage”, although this does not appear to be true.
South Africans regard Zuma’s love life as something of a soap opera. In 2000, Kate Mantsho, one of his wives and the mother of five of his children, committed suicide with an overdose, aged 44, saying he made her life hell.
Another wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, 60, who was the mother of four of his children, divorced him in 1998. She now sits in his cabinet as home affairs minister.
In addition to three current wives, he also has as a fiancée a Swazi princess, Sebentile Dlamini, for whom he paid a dowry of 10 cows in 2002. There is now talk of a marriage to Khoza.
A cartoon in the Cape Times showed a smiling Zuma proudly holding his new baby, who bears an uncanny resemblance to him, amidst a sea of other babies, all looking exactly like the president. The caption reads: “Father of the nation.”
Yet Zuma’s spokesman claimed the president was relaxed. “He views it as a storm in a teacup, a personal matter and none of the media’s business.”
Zuma apparently sees himself as a traditional Zulu chieftain who, although of humble birth (he is the son of a policeman), likes to be surrounded by his wives and children as a symbol of his wealth and success.
He often retreats to his home village of Nkandla, in the Zululand area of KwaZulu-Natal province, where a vast palace is being built for him and his extended family.
The complex contains the home of Sizakele Khumalo, 67, his first wife, but two more houses are being built for other wives, Nompumelelo Ntuli, 34, mother of two of his children, and Madiba, 37, who is the mother of two more.
Each house has a thatched roof and contains his-and-hers bathrooms, formal living rooms and a study. One has three bedrooms, the other four. A police station, staff accommodation, a helicopter pad, clinic and parking for 40 cars are also under construction.
Zuma’s office insisted that “no government funding will be utilised for the construction work”, but accepted that buildings connected with the president’s security would be paid for by the state.
There are reports of jealousy between the wives. When he became head of state last May, Zuma attended the ceremony with Sizakele, whom he married in 1973. At the official opening of parliament in Cape Town last year, he brought all three wives. They slept through the proceedings.
Helen Zille, the opposition leader, asked how Zuma, who earns £186,000 a year, could afford so lavish a lifestyle. “Questions need to be asked about where he gets the money,” she said.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Inkatha party leader and a Zulu chief, said he was not in a position to criticise Zuma’s personal life as his mother was the 10th of his father’s 20 wives. But he told The Sunday Times: “I’ve lost two of my children to Aids. While Mr Zuma has made several very good statements about Aids, it’s also true that by his attitude and actions he is undermining the fight against it.”
Zuma said last year that many other ANC leaders “have wives, girlfriends and children that they try to hide. I think that’s terrible. I love my wives and children, I’m proud of them, so I’m open about it, that’s the only difference”.