Who will be Zuma's first lady?

While it is customary before an election to wonder who will emerge as first lady, it’s unusual to ask the question when only one man can possibly be president.

Jacob Zuma is about to take power in South Africa but the identity of his official consort is an open field. The gregarious president-in-waiting has married five times, although one wife has divorced him and another committed suicide.

The favourite is Nompumelelo Ntuli, a 34-year-old from the same rural area of KwaZulu-Natal, whom he married a little over a year ago. But she is not the newest wife as Thobeka Mabhija, a Durban socialite with whom Mr Zuma is said to have two children, was wedded to him this January.

MaNtuli, as last year’s wife is known, also faces a challenge from Mr Zuma’s first wife, Sizakele Khumalo. They have been together for 50 years and married in 1973, but MaKhumalo is rarely at official engagements and never speaks in public.

The 67-year-old has not hidden his polygamy which is allowed under a 1998 law recognising customary marriage practices. It is traditional for a Zulu elder to have several wives. Mr Zuma often sounds bemused at the attention his marriages attract, pointing out that his approach is preferable to the hypocrisy of leaders in other countries who have kept mistresses. “I love my wives and I’m proud of my children,” is his stock response. Those children are reported to number at least 13, although many more women have claimed to have had children by the politician.

Mr Zuma’s camp has refused to comment on who is ahead in the race to be first lady, and told people to wait until after his inauguration. There can be only one name admitted to the spousal office of the presidency at Pretoria.

MaNtuli is the pundits’ favourite after a speaking appearance last month and could well be in the photograph with Carla Bruni or Michelle Obama when the new president goes on tour.