A KWAZULU-Natal businesswoman was sent packing after pulling a sneaky move to declare her affections for President Jacob Zuma during a public function on Tuesday.
Nomthandazo “Nomthi” Mathaba-Mthembu arranged a 15-car convoy to travel to the president’s homestead in Nkandla under the pretext of delivering gifts during the annual Zulu traditional dance ceremony on New Year’s Day.
Once there, some of her entourage, many of them women dressed in traditional outfits and bearing gifts, started chanting customary songs of courtship.
The Zulu courtship ritual involves a woman confessing her love to a man (ukuqoma), but it is generally accepted that both parties should show their willingness to be committed to each other.
The singing of the courtship songs stunned several unsuspecting chiefs who had accompanied Mathaba-Mthembu’s delegation to Nkandla.
Inkosi Siphamandla Mthembu of the Ngoza clan in Nkandla, who was part of the delegation, said he was shocked when the singing began.
A livid Mthembu told the Sunday Times this week that he had been asked by Mathaba-Mthembu, 50, to accompany her to deliver Christmas gifts to Zuma on New Year’s Day.
“I readily agreed as I know Nomthandazo and regard her as my sister,” said the chief.
He said he then asked two other chiefs, Somopho Mthembu of Macekane and Victoria Dube, the chairwoman of traditional leaders in the Uthungulu district, to accompany them.
Mthembu said they were carrying gifts such as food parcels, blankets, pots and traditional Zulu mats.
“Things went awry when we arrived at the gate of Zuma’s homestead and the women started singing songs of courtship. That’s when we started asking each other what this was all about,” said Mthembu.
He said when they confronted Mathaba-Mthembu, she told them that she wanted to surprise Zuma.
“We were shocked beyond belief because all we knew was that we were bringing Christmas gifts to the president and [we were] not there to court him,” added Mthembu.
He said he immediately drove away, but was later told by the other chiefs that there was chaos and they had been prevented from entering the homestead.
Now the chiefs want to offer an apology to Zuma for the embarrassment the incident may have caused him.
Chief Bhekumuzi Zuma of the Nxamalala clan said he was aware of a group of women singing courtship songs, but he and Zuma had been involved in the dance ceremony at the time.
“We’ve received complaints from chiefs who were part of the delegation saying they were not aware that the gifts they had brought were for courtship,” he said.
Deebo Mzobe, a relative of the president and a KwaZulu-Natal businessman who attended the dance ceremony, said he had heard about the incident but would not be drawn further.
“Maybe it was all just a joke. How can you bring courtship gifts to someone who has not courted you?” he said.
When the Sunday Times approached Mathaba-Mthembu outside her home in Eshowe this week, she said: “I am extremely busy because I am a lawyer. Right now I am on my way to Mtunzini to meet with other lawyers to prepare for cases we are busy working on.”
Mathaba-Mthembu would not explain the nature of her relationship with Zuma, saying she would speak to the media “at an appropriate time”.
Her close friend Thandi Mkhize, who led the delegation of women to Zuma’s homestead, also declined to explain the reason for their visit.
“It’s better to ask the key person [Mathaba-Mthembu] in this,” Mkhize said.
Neither Zuma’s brother Michael, who speaks on behalf of the president’s family, nor presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj could be reached for comment.
Zuma already has four wives, the latest being Bongi Ngema-Zuma, whom he married in April last year.
His other wives are his first wife Sizakele Khumalo-Zuma, whom he married in 1973, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma and Tobeka Madiba-Zuma.
Mathaba-Mthembu was married to an ANC member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, Bheki Mthembu, who was gunned down in 1998 at Gingingindlovu near Eshowe while attending a peace meeting between the ANC and IFP.
Three years ago, she married policeman Mike Ernest, but they divorced recently.
An active member of the ANC, Mathaba-Mthembu owns a funeral parlour and two taverns and also hires out rooms to Zuma’s bodyguards in the Sunnydale suburb of Eshowe when the president is in town.
She owns a modest house in town and drives a Mitsubishi Pajero.