Simple okes like myself married to only one wife (or only one wife at a time) cannot help wondering how a busy man like the president attends to his various wives’ conjugal needs.
Does he keep a roster, and see them on a rotational basis? Or does he have favourites whom he invites back to his bedroom after the first four days of each week have been allocated to his four wives in turn?
These are questions that sprang to mind after the announcement that President Jacob Zuma was to marry his current fiancée Bongi Ngema, who has been accompanying him on overseas trips and whom the foreign media have already been describing as his wife.
There was a front-page picture of her helping to cut her bridegroom’s 70th birthday cake on Sunday. She and the president’s two previous wives all looked jolly, but his first wife MaKhumalo was distinctly (as they say in Afrikaans)|bekaf. She has been married to him since 1973, and is the only wife among his six, including Bongi (a fifth is divorced and a sixth dead) whom he failed to impregnate.
He made up for it with the rest and various other women scattered round the country – four children with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, five with Kate Zuma, three with Nompumelelo Zuma, one with Thobeka Zuma, one with Bongi herself, one with Minah Shongwe, two with Priscilla Nonkwaleko, a Pietermaritzburg businesswoman, one with Sonono Khosa, daughter of colleague Irvin Khosa, three with an unnamed Johannesburg woman and one with an unnamed Richards Bay woman.
There could be others, but that makes 22 to be going on with.
In the South African movie Material, comedian Nik Rabinowitz jokes that with four wives in hand, the president still has another 12 to go.
As in “four better, four worse, four richer, four poorer”. Maybe so far he has only one of each.
In a question-and-answer session with two of his daughters, he said he likes his women “with some body”, so Helen Zille, whom he was prepared to date but is a lot skinnier, can relax.
Zuma himself is taking his marital situation seriously.
According to reports his Nkandla compound is being renovated at a cost of R64 million and will, when completed, have six double-storey rondavels for his wives and family. Each of the rondavels’ main bedrooms will be connected to the presidential homestead by underground tunnels.
Why six? Are the two additional rondavels in case love blooms yet again, and again?
Which brings me back to my initial questions: who pops out of which tunnel first and in what order? Does each wife wait to be called, or are signalling flags flown above the main house? And if so, is there one that in effect says: not tonight Bongi, Tobeka, Nompumelelo or MaKhumalo?
That could be the night all the president wants to do is sit quietly by himself and watch Mr Bean or Fawlty Towers, his favourite TV programmes.
He may also be wondering how to pay for it all. Fortunately taxpayers can be relied on to fund the presidential spousal support office, which cost R15.5m in the 2009/2010 financial year, nearly double the figure when the two previous presidents, both monogamous, were in power.
Then again, who can put a price on love, even the multiple variety?