It was a clash that was apparently not captured on camera: a screaming match involving two of President Jacob Zuma’s wives in the SABC’s newsroom ahead of a Women’s Day TV show.
The incident – in front of SABC staff – followed an apparent mix-up, with the invitations being sent to Tobeka Madiba and Bongi Ngema.
The broadcaster sent two separate invitations to Zuma’s fourth and third wives respectively, hoping that one of them would honour the invite to discuss a range of women’s issues to mark the beginning of Women’s Month in August. Both women then arrived at the same time at the SABC studios in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.
It seems when Madiba and Ngema caught sight of one another in the TV newsroom on the third floor of the SABC building, both lost their temper. According to an SABC staff member who witnessed the incident and asked not to be named because she is not authorised to speak on behalf of the broadcaster, there was a lot of shouting and screaming.
The source said the first ladies accused the SABC of setting them up, and “other top executives such as head of TV news Jimi Matthews had to come and intervene”.
“One of Zuma’s wives threatened to call [SABC chief operating officer] Hlaudi [Motsoeneng] and believed this was a conspiracy against them. It was ugly and embarrassing.”
Matthews confirmed this week “the confusion” about the invitations, but said the matter had been resolved amicably.
“But there was some confusion as to how the invitations were extended because both ladies showed up on the day.
“The producers of the show did try to persuade them to go ahead with the show, but the ladies just left. They felt they were being set up… But they [the two first ladies] are best suited to answer.
“There was an attempt for the producers to talk to them,” he said, adding that the broadcaster had “sincerely apologised” to the women.
“There was poor internal communication,” he said.
Another staff member, who did not witness the incident and also refused to be named for fear of reprisals, said: “Everyone was talking about the drama. I was surprised to hear the following morning that the two first ladies clashed in our newsroom. It was entertaining.”
Ngema and Madiba were invited by the producers of the SABC’s 24-hour news channel show The Newsroom, presented by Eben Jansen, to discuss women’s issues.
“[SABC] wanted to produce a Women’s Day show. The idea was to invite one of the first ladies to talk about their foundation and programmes relating to issues affecting women,” said another SABC news staff member close to the show, who spoke to the Mail & Guardianon condition of anonymity.
She said the show had to be cancelled because the two women did not want to participate in the interview – either together or separately.
Jansen could not be reached for comment and did not respond to phone calls and voice messages.
Matthews explained that the invitations had been sent out by two units – one by The Newsroom and the other by the channel head – which led to each of the first ladies being sent an invitation.
He was adamant that the producers did not orchestrate the chaos.
This is not the first time Zuma’s wives have been involved in public displays of rivalry.
The Times reported in January 2010 that Zuma’s second wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli, snubbed his wedding to Madiba and that the two are said to be extremely jealous of each other.
Another incident when Zuma’s younger spouses showed their dislike for each other was when he delivered his State of the Nation address to Parliament in 2009. Madiba appeared to have shoved Ntuli aside to position herself closest to the president for a photograph.
At the time, Zuma was standing between Ntuli and his first wife, MaKhumalo, when Madiba appeared to elbow her way between them so she could stand closest to the president.
Media reports say the fights started when Ntuli and Madiba moved to the president’s homestead in Nkandla.
The M&G sought comment from Ngema and Madiba, who had not responded at the time of going to press. – Mail & Guardian