President Jacob Zuma's controversial wife Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma has been banned from his Nkandla home following sensational claims of a plot to poison the president, reports Sunday Times
After months of speculation about the president's relationship with Ntuli-Zuma, sources said the reason she had been cast out related to suspicion by the president of her involvement in an alleged plan to poison him. She now lives in Durban North with her three children.
The president's office has refused to comment on the claim, which has been confirmed to the Sunday Times by three sources.
They claim that although the president fell ill and was hospitalised in June last year, it was only during a trip to the US two months later that a still-ailing Zuma was told he had been poisoned.
However, he did not trust the Americans and went to Russia for treatment. Russian doctors confirmed the diagnosis.
A source said the president was very angry when he found out about the alleged poison plot, but told close relatives to keep it within the family. They were told that Ntuli-Zuma had done "something terrible that could put her in jail for a long time", a family insider said.
Ntuli-Zuma, who had accompanied the president on his August trip to the US, was said to have been ordered to remain in the Nkandla compound. She spent Christmas and New Year's Eve alone in her house in the compound, and moved out in January.
Speculation about the couple's strained relationship has been circulating for months, and was fuelled further last week by her absence from Zuma's state of the nation address. His other wives, Sizakele Khumalo-Zuma, Bongi Ngema-Zuma and Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, attended.
Other pointers to the couple's problems were Ntuli-Zuma's absence from the annual Christmas party hosted by the president in December, and a claim that she did not get her Christmas allowance.
She has also been removed from the international travel roster of the Presidency's spousal office and will no longer be accompanying the president on his trips. She remains entitled to benefits from the spousal office unless a divorce takes place.
The Sunday Times sent detailed questions to the Presidency about Ntuli-Zuma and the circumstances around Zuma's illness. Spokesman Mac Maharaj ignored them, replying only that: "The status of Mrs Nompumelelo Zuma had not changed. She is the spouse of the president."
A direct link between Ntuli-Zuma and a poison plot could not be conclusively established. It is understood that the president believed that she had been motivated by herunhappiness at being sidelined since allegations of reports that she may have had an extramarital affair surfaced a few years ago.
Zuma, as the former chief of ANC intelligence in exile, is said to be extremely paranoid and to believe in conspiracies. When he was diagnosed by the Russians, Zuma believed that only someone within his immediate family circle could have had access to his food. Suspicion fell on Ntuli-Zuma.
Asked about the falling out between Zuma and his second wife, the president's brother Michael said he did not know anything about a poison plot. But he confirmed that Ntuli-Zuma was no longer living at Nkandla.
"I can't remember when she left, but it's not long ago," he said. He said it was difficult for him to say whether Zuma and Ntuli-Zuma would reconcile.
"It's between the two of them. I think you can get it better from them and not me. I don't have any details about that matter. I am also searching for answers but I can't find any," said Michael.
A senior intelligence source confirmed the poisoning incident, saying that it was uncovered when Zuma travelled to Washington on August 3 for a three-day US-Africa Leaders' Summit, hosted by US president Barack Obama. "He was very sick when he went to the US ... that's where the Americans picked up the poison and told him about it."
When he first fell ill on June 7 last year, the official line was that he needed a rest after a hectic election campaign.
He was only seen in public 10 days later when, looking gaunt, he delivered the state of the nation address.
During the 10 days between June 7 and June 17, Zuma was due to have travelled to Brazil for the opening of the Soccer World Cup and the official handover of the event - as South Africa had been the previous host in 2010.
But a family insider said Zuma became so sick during that period that he became disorientated.
"The belief was that the disorientation was because of the wrong diagnosis and the dosage of the prescribed medication given to him by his doctors. He would speak about his late mother as if she was still living and then talk about current issues," said the insider.
After the state of the nation address, Zuma managed to travel to Brazil for the World Cup's closing ceremony.
After returning from the US in August, he made an unexpected trip to Russia, arriving on August 24. There was speculation that he was there to secretly conclude a nuclear deal with his counterpart Vladimir Putin, but the intelligence source said Zuma's health and his distrust of the Americans were behind the trip.
The intelligence source said: "The Russians picked up the same thing as the Americans ... That's why he had to spend a few days there before meeting Putin."
The official line from the government was that Zuma would spend two days holding low-key meetings and "use the period to rest" ahead of his meeting with Putin on the third day. What was bizarre about the trip was that Zuma travelled only with State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Deputy Minister of International Relations Nomaindia Mfeketo and a few officials.
Soon after Zuma's return, his personal physician, Dr Harold Adams, was removed from his position for having failed to diagnose what was wrong with him, according to two independent sources.
Adams this week denied that he had been removed fromZuma's team, saying that he took time off to study.
"Remember, the president has a team of people looking after him and I was one of them. I decided to [step] aside and finish my degree so that I can come back ... stronger," he said.
Repeated calls to MaNtuli went unanswered this week. She, however, changed her Whatsapp profile picture to a box with the words: "Umoya wami u phansi" (my spirit is down).
In an apparent reference to the devil, her status says: "Davel is a lie."
Relatives at her newly built home in rural Maphumulo near Kranskop in KwaZulu-Natal said they did not know anything about her being kicked out of Nkandla. MaNtuli's mother could not be reached for comment.