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By Thami Kwazi

Lifestyle Print Editor

Zuma’s style seamlessly combines traditional components with modern tailoring

Former president Jacob Zuma's wardrobe tells the tale of fearlessness, defiance and comfort.

Just when we thought he’d vacated the political arena, former president Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is back, as the leader of the rapidly growing uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party.

Formed only six months ago, the party caused a stir in political circles with its fast emergence ahead of the national and provincial elections in South Africa.

The 82-year-old Zuma, a controversial former president of South Africa, is a figure whose fashion choices are as compelling as his political journey.

Amid court appearances, party squabbles and elections, he manages to keep Mzansi intrigued with his sense of style.

His style, which combines traditional African components with modern tailoring, has long been a source of interest and a sign of his mystifying presence.

His legacy continues to influence and inspire, demonstrating the powerful intersection of fashion, culture, and politics.

We take a look at his fashion.

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Jacob Zuma’s former fiance, LaConco. Picture: Instagram

While it’s clear that the party’s growth is due to having Zuma at the helm, many have speculated that some South Africans may have a style crush on theIsoga ‘of the nation (boyfriend of the nation), as the mother of one of his sons and former fiance Real Housewives star Nonkanyiso “LaConco” Conco described him.

ALSO READ: ‘He loved me loudly’: LaConco opens up about her relationship with Zuma

Father of equally controversial twins, Duduzane and Duduzile, and, numerous other children, the political leader knows that the outfit should always suit the occasion, be it a ‘tea party’ at his private Nkandla residence, a political rally, a meeting with fellow dignitaries, or spending time with his children. Comfort is also key.

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A post shared by Jacob G Zuma (@presjgzuma)

Style fixation

The interest was apparent when netizens pulled up a classic picture of Zuma walking past a guard of honour while on a British tour with Prince Philip behind him. He was wearing a slate suit, black cashmere trench coat, black gloves, a monochrome tie, and tinted glasses.

It was a very stylish and presidential moment in fashion!

It was a not-to-be-forgotten photograph that was plastered everywhere, and made Prince Phillip look like a prop in the back.

Former president Jacob Zuma is greeted by Queen Elizabeth II during a ceremonial welcome at Horseguards Parade on 3 March 2010 in London, England. Picture: Chris Harris/WPA Pool/Getty Images

The men behind the ‘drip’

Designer Sonwabile Ndamase, a well-known South African tailor, is responsible for the unique style of Zuma’s relaxed shirts.

Zuma has also been styled by Janek Parekh, a bespoke suit designer, who has worked with numerous African leaders and dignitaries, including the first president of the Republic of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

From his label Vukani Fashion, the popular shirts are known as the Madiba shirts, which the late Mandela wore to most gatherings as they were comfortable but still looked chic.

Ndamase brings a bespoke touch to each garment, infusing traditional African patterns with contemporary design.

His craftsmanship is evident in the tailoring of Zuma’s relaxed shirts, which often feature bold, intricate patterns and a fit that speaks to both authority and heritage. The shirts are also easily identifiable.

His approach to tailoring for Zuma goes beyond just the fabric and fit.

But there’s an element to the shirts that’s about communicating a sense of Zulu pride, perseverance and a strong connection to African roots.

His shirts recently became a social media trend when the #tea-shirt-challenge was created by Zuma’s followers.

It was in response to personalities who visited Zuma at his Nkandla home, while he donned the designer shirts. His daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambula even giggled about this in a post saying, “I heard there’s a@PresJGZuma ‘tea’ shirt challenge”.

As a designer, Ndamase embraced the attention this brought to his brand, a Madiba shirt 2.0, you could say.

Suited for the people

When it comes to suits, Zuma uses the services of Durban tailor Janek Parekh, according to News24, who first started making suits for late IFP leader Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Each suit is a narrative; a statement piece that resonates with Zuma’s journey from freedom fighter to the highest office in South Africa.

A highlight was the leopard print suit with African-inspired accents he wore in 2010.

While the designs are African, the fabrics have been gathered from all over the world, including the Czech Republic and India, where Parekh was born and raised. It takes the designer around two weeks to complete a garment.

ALSO READ: Zuma’s MK party slams claims that Zulu tribalism is reason for election success

Style that speaks volumes

Zuma’s attire during his public appearances often included accessories such as traditional beads and patterned ties, depending on the gathering, which further emphasises his cultural pride.

When it comes to the shirts, at times Ndamase ensures that the materials used are sourced locally, supporting South African textile industries and promoting sustainable fashion practices.

His fashion choices have, at times, been seen as a form of political commentary, subtly addressing issues of identity and sovereignty.

Legacy of fashion and influence

His collaboration with local designers has set a precedent for African leaders to embrace and promote indigenous designs, encouraging a renaissance of African fashion on the global stage.

ALSO READ: Bend it like Jacob Zuma

Not always running to international fashion stores but highlighting the importance of using the resources in your fashion backyard, showcasing how traditional attire can coexist with modern political imagery.

For his followers, his presence is enigmatic, not just a matter of political stature but also profound cultural significance.