from Africa in Transition

South Africa: President Zuma Gets a Fourth Wife

April 24, 2012

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Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa

Heads of State and Government

This past weekend President Jacob Zuma married a fourth wife, Gloria Bongi Ngema. She joins his three other wives, Sizakele, Nompumelelo, and Thobeka. The private ceremony took place at his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, and, according to the press, Zuma paid all of the costs himself.

Zuma took the occasion of his new marriage to clarify the status of his wives. According to the press, the presidency affirmed that South Africa has no position of “First Lady.” Therefore, the spouses pay all of their own expenses and live in private houses not supplied by the government. However, the wives are expected to “provide support to the president in the execution of his duties.” Therefore, the government does pay for secretaries and travel in conjunction with that support.

Polygamy is legal in South Africa, and is frequently practiced among Zuma’s fellow Zulus (and certain other ethnic groups) who can afford it. Nevertheless, many South Africans are uncomfortable that the chief of state is a polygamist, not least because they regard it as incongruent with a modern, democratic state.

Zuma is also facing renewed corruption charges. That could account for the official clarification of the position of Zuma’s wives and the assurance that only limited public funds are spent on them.