by Rajesh Jantilal Rajesh Jantilal – Mon Jan 4, 11:22 am ET
NKANDLA, South Africa (AFP) – Wearing leopard skins and carrying a Zulu shield, South Africa’s polygamous President Jacob Zuma on Monday married for the fifth time, in a traditional ceremony in his remote hometown.
The 67-year-old and his new bride Thobeka Madiba, 30 years his junior, danced in an open field at his homestead in Nkandla, a village deep in the countryside of KwaZulu-Natal province.
The two formally wed when a tribal elder asked Madiba if she accepted to join the Zuma family. When she agreed, he pronounced her Zuma’s third current wife.
His first wife, Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, attended the ceremony. His second wife Nompumelelo Ntuli Zuma was at the homestead preparing for the reception in a massive tent, where guests will celebrate through the night.
One of Zuma’s earlier wives committed suicide in 2000, while in 1998 he divorced Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who remains in his inner circle and is currently South Africa’s home affairs minister.
The guests included South Africa’s political and business elite, including Mandla Mandela, a grandson of the nation’s first black president Nelson Mandela.
Local celebrities and music stars like Yvonne Chaka Chaka also attended the ceremony under overcast skies, with a gentle drizzle seen as a sign of blessing in African culture.
Several sheep, goats and cows have already been slaughtered for the feast to follow.
After initially declaring the ceremony would be private, it was finally opened to the public under heavy police presence. Local villagers, many dressed in animal skins and African cloth, trekked through muddy trails to attend.
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.
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 the traditional dowry known as ilobolo for his latest fiancee, Bongi Ngema.
Zuma has also been linked to a Swazi princess, but has given no clear indication that he plans to wed her.
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 among 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.
Usually Zuma brings only one wife to state functions or on overseas trips.
His first wife 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.
He is reportedly father to at least 18 children.