By Stephen Robinson, Daily Mail
Last Updated at 4:22 PM on 02nd March 2010
Buffoon: Jacob Zuma with one of his four wives
Spare a thought for the Buckingham Palace protocol officials tomorrow when His Excellency President Jacob Zuma arrives in London for his first state visit to these shores.
For this incoming 'One hundred per cent Zulu Boy', as the South African President styles himself when he has an election to win, presents unique challenges of planning for the courtiers.
The formal announcement of the state visit primly notes that the President will be accompanied during his three-day stay at Buckingham Palace by 'his wife Mrs Thobeka Madiba Zuma'. This is not untrue - but nor is it quite the whole truth.
Because Thobeka is just one of Mr Zuma's four living wives, not including one from Mozambique who committed suicide in 2000. She is also one of the estimated ten women with whom the libidinous Zuma has sired the 20 children he acknowledges to be his own.
On top of that, Zuma has paid lobolo - a sort of tribal deposit on a future bride - to the families of at least two more potential wives.
On a recent visit to South Africa, I was told very confidently by a man who knows the inner workings of the government that Zuma's true tally is actually 35 children, including a set of twins with a woman from Ukraine.
One thing is clear. Jacob Zuma could not be more different from the man in whose long shadow he must walk - South Africa's great and first democratic leader, Nelson Mandela.
But to go back to the hard-pressed Palace courtiers in charge of protocol, how can they prevent disaster in the diplomatic minefield of tomorrow night's state banquet?
At these state dinners it is traditional to invite leaders of the 'arts community' to break up the stodgy ranks of diplomats and establishment bigwigs who tend to get the bulk of the invitations.
But will theatrical greats such as Sir Ian McKellen be comfortable breaking bread with a man who has described same-sex marriage as 'a disgrace to the nation and to God', and who boasted that when he was a young man, any sensible homosexual would have got out of his way because: 'I would have knocked him out.'
South African president Jacob Zuma with his three wives, Sizakele Khumalo, right, Nompumelo Ntuli, far left, and Thobeka Mabhija, second from left. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/AFP/Getty Images
Will our bishops want to nibble canapes with a man who won the South African election last year by appearing at rallies and singing the old ANC guerilla war song: 'Bring Me My Machine Gun'? At the time, this was interpreted by many South Africans as a grotesque disavowal of Mandela's exhortation to his supporters to throw their weapons into the sea.
And for that matter, would Harriet Harman, assiduously promoting her equality agenda as the General Election nears, wish to discuss gender issues with a man who, when charged with rape in 2005, protested in court that the alleged victim was wearing an extremely short skirt.
'In Zulu culture you cannot leave a woman if she is ready,' Zuma told the judge. 'To deny her sex would have been tantamount to rape.'
Knowing that the woman he had imposed himself upon was HIV positive and that he had not used a condom, Zuma took a postcoital shower, believing that would protect him against the virus.
The Foreign Office expects the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to submit themselves to an average of only two incoming state visits a year, so why was it thought necessary to honour Zuma in this way? It is not as though South African leaders have been strangers to Buckingham Palace in recent years.
President Mandela came on a state visit two years after winning the first democratic election in 1994, and returned again 18 months ago during his 90th birthday celebrations. Thabo Mbeki, Zuma's predecessor as president, came over with his wife on a state visit in 2001.
Which all means there was certainly no diplomatic need for Britain to mark Zuma's installation in power last year. During almost 60 years on the throne, the Queen has learned she broadly has to do what the Foreign Office tells her, so she throws open Buckingham Palace and pins medals on the chest of any murderous dictator the government wishes to suck up to.
State visit: The flags of South Africa and Britain fly together on the Mall in London in preparation for Zuma's visit
Zuma may not have matched the grotesque misrule of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who was welcomed to the Palace in 1994. But he tends to side with the mobs who have invaded the white-owned, productive farms rather than those who used to produce the country's food.
'Europeans often ignore the fact that Mugabe is very popular among Africans. In their eyes, he has given blacks their country back after centuries of colonialism,' Zuma has said. 'The people love him, so how can we condemn him?'
No wonder that affluent South Africans, black and white, are now so concerned by the course South Africa is taking under Zuma, and fearful they are on a trajectory towards becoming the continent's next basket case.
It seems utterly misguided to have invited Zuma at a time when it is becoming ever more evident that South Africa is being turned into an organised kleptocracy.
With timing that seems suspiciously fortunate given the looming state visit, the government this month announced a deal with British Aerospace to end investigations into whether bribes were paid in several recent contracts.
This is fortunate for Zuma - he was deeply implicated in the bribes paid by European defence contractors, including British Aerospace, over a gigantic 1998 South African arms deal.
Schabir Shaik, Zuma's personal financial adviser, was one of the few men to stand trial for corruption as Thabo Mbeki's government kicked over the traces of the arms deal and other corruption scandals.
Shaik was convicted of making several illegal payments to Zuma, and in effect underwriting the cost of his substantial private home to accommodate his various wives and children.
The truth is that corruption is now so prevalent that South Africans have lost their capacity to be shocked by it.
But Zuma may not be forgiven for his flamboyant sex life. Having been acquitted of rape, then mobbed by jubilant supporters, Zuma believed he was beyond criticism.
Yet he now finds himself in political difficulty after the recent revelation of the birth of the 20th acknowledged child, to a woman in Durban. This broke a deal he made with the party that even if he could not conquer his libido, he would at least behave with discretion, and stop impregnating casual sexual partners.
Like the 19th-century missionaries who attempted to stamp it out, the ruling ANC party disapproves of polygamy, partly because it reinforces white men's stereotypes of Africans as somehow uncivilised.
But Aids is the much more compelling explanation for why Zuma finds himself in trouble. With an HIV infection rate feared to be close to 30 per cent, and with South Africa's rural areas overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of Aids orphans, Zuma's manic promiscuity is setting a terrible example and has become a matter of grave public concern.
The ANC was forced, in a formal statement, to acknowledge the level of public disquiet about Zuma's conduct. And there is now even talk at the highest level of the ANC that Zuma might not be allowed a second term as president.
Since Thabo Mbeki (who had demented ideas about Aids) was forced from office, the government has made progress in changing the sexual attitudes of black South Africans. Zuma has blown a hole in this campaign for the sake of his nights of passion.
No doubt the guests tomorrow night in London will be too polite to raise such delicate matters with the guest of honour.
But millions of South Africans, viewing television images of the Zulu Boy at Buckingham Palace, will wonder why the Queen is honouring a man who back home is rapidly becoming a very bad joke.
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