When first lady Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma was questioned by police about a plot to poison her husband, President Jacob Zuma, it turned into one of South Africa’s most sensational news stories of 2015.
The youngest of the president’s four wives, Ntuli-Zuma (known as MaNtuli) was instructed to leave his Nkandla homestead in January this year.
The order did not come from Zuma but from State Security Minister David Mahlobo, who informed her that such a sensitive investigation needed to be conducted without her being present.
Yet, 11 months later, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has still not received a docket on the alleged poison plot and the police investigation remains shrouded in mystery.
Ntuli-Zuma, who has not returned to Nkandla, dismisses the claims that she could have been involved in a plot to poison her husband as “baseless and without merit”, her lawyer, Ulrich Roux, told the Mail & Guardian.
Roux was present when Ntuli-Zuma was questioned by members of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks).
“A number of questions were posed to my client by the Hawks,” he said. “The questions related to an alleged plot to kill the president.”
Ntuli-Zuma was not asked to make a police statement, said Roux. “My client answered the questions, where at all applicable and where she could be of assistance, in a voluntary and honest manner.”
These days, Ntuli-Zuma lives with her three minor children in a rented home in KwaZulu-Natal. She continues to receive spousal support from the president.
“The status quo pertaining to her spousal responsibilities, duties and benefits still remains,” said Roux.
Despite her banishment from Nkandla, the president has revealed no plans to divorce Ntuli-Zuma, whom he wed in a traditional ceremony amid a blaze of publicity in 2008. Though questions to the presidency went unanswered, Roux said Ntuli-Zuma was still in contact with her husband.
“I have not been instructed to institute any divorce proceedings on behalf of my client, nor has my client been served with any divorce proceedings,” said Roux.
NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku said no one has been charged in the matter and “the [police] docket has not been presented to the NPA”.
But police spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed the investigation into the plot to poison Zuma is still under way.
“Please be advised that the matter is still under investigation and it will be improper and criminal to divulge any information into the public sphere before investigations are completed. No further inquiries will be entertained in this regard.”
Ntuli-Zuma’s cellphone was answered by a man, who asked what the purpose of the call was and then hung up. As the president’s wife, Ntuli-Zuma remains entitled to bodyguards and a security detail for her family.
Tragedy befell her former bodyguard Phinda Thomo, who was found dead in his Soweto home five years ago.
Police have described the shooting as a suicide, but family members have previously told this reporter, writing for the Daily Maverick, that they do not believe he took his own life.
Mystery surrounds the fact that his family was not officially informed about the public inquest into his death.
Suspicions around Thomo’s death were heightened by allegations that he had been having an affair with Ntuli-Zuma while he was her private bodyguard, and that she had been pregnant with his child when he died. The speculation continued after her child, Manqoba Kholwani Zuma, was born in August 2010.
At the time, Zuma’s nephew, Khulubuse Zuma, distanced the family from claims that Ntuli-Zuma had had an affair with her bodyguard.
Thomo’s death made headlines again last year after a Tanzanian man named Steven Ongolo was arrested for extortion in a case involving Ntuli-Zuma.
Investigating officer Brigadier Clifford Marion told the court how, in one SMS to Ntuli-Zuma, Ongolo threatened to tell the media and Zuma that the president was not the father of one of Ntuli-Zuma’s children.
Another SMS related to a claim that the 2009 death of her bodyguard was suspicious.
Ongolo was sentenced to three months in jail, or a fine of R10 000, after pleading guilty to three counts of crimen injuria in the regional court in Durban.
Roux was asked by the M&G whether Ntuli-Zuma believed there was any link between the allegations of her involvement in a plot to poison her husband and the allegations that she had had an affair with her bodyguard.
“My instructions are that the claims against my client are baseless and without any merit,” said Roux. “My client has no idea as to the origin of the claims made against her and is not going to speculate pertaining thereto.”
Like the rest of Zuma’s wives, Ntuli-Zuma has many business interests to keep her busy and her charitable foundations, the MaNtuli Zuma J Foundation and the MaNtuli Foundation, are still operational.
Although Ntuli-Zuma’s dramatic fall from grace has undoubtedly been cushioned by the perks of her stately role, it could not have made for an easy year living under a cloud of suspicion.