Is South Africa legalizing polyandry? Let’s find out
……Polyandry: When a woman has more than one husband at the same time.
Known for its liberal constitution, embracing same-sex marriages for all and polygamy for men, the South African government has now laid out a proposal to legalize polyandry. Much to the dissatisfaction and disagreement from the conservative quarters.
Their proposal has been included in a document – officially known as a Green Paper – that the government has released for public comment as it embarks on the biggest overhaul of marriage laws since white-minority rule ended in 1994.
“It’s important to remember that this Green Paper sets to uphold human rights and we cannot lose sight of that,” said Charlene May, an advocate at the Women’s Legal Centre, a law firm that fights for women’s rights.
“We cannot reject law reform because it challenges certain patriarchal views in our society.”
The proposal has been condemned by by clerics who hold seats in parliament.
The leader of the opposition African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, said it would “destroy society”.
“There will come a time when one of the men will say, ‘You spend most of the time with that man and not with me’ – and there will be conflict between the two men,” he added.
For his part, the leader of the Islamic Al-Jamah party, Ganief Hendricks, said: “You can imagine when a child is born, more DNA tests will be needed to discover who the father is.”
Businessman and TV personality Musa Mseleku – who has four wives – is also a strong opponent to the idea of polyandry. We wonder, why?
“This will destroy African culture. What about the children of those people? How will they know their identity?” asks Mr Mseleku, who stars in a South African reality TV show about his polygamous family.
“The woman cannot now take the role of the man. It’s unheard of. Will the woman now pay lobola [bride price] for the man. Will the man be expected to take her surname?”
On the other hand, is the likes of Prof Machoko who have researched polyandry in his country of birth, Zimbabwe. He spoke to 20 women and 45 co-husbands who practised it, even though such marriages are a social taboo and not legally recognised, his findings present an interesting insight.
He discovered that love was the main reason for the men he interviewed to agree to be co-husbands. They did not want to risk losing their wife.
Some men also referred to the fact that they did not satisfy their wives sexually, agreeing to the suggestion of a co-husband to avoid divorce or affairs.
Another reason was infertility – some men consented to the wife taking another husband so that she could have children. In this way, the men “saved face” in public and avoided being stigmatised as “emasculated”.
Prof Machoko went on to add that polyandry was once practised in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, and it is still practised in Gabon, where the law allows it.
“With the arrival of Christianity and colonisation, the role of the woman became diminished. They were no longer equal. Marriage became one of the tools used to establish hierarchy.”
So what exactly happens in polyandry?
Prof Machoko says in polyandry, the woman often initiates the relationships and invites the husbands to join her union. Some pay the bride price, others opt to contribute to her livelihood. She has the power to remove a co-husband if she believes he is destabilising her other relationships.
Time will tell the fate of the green paper in South Africa. Till then, we unabashedly would want to enjoy the idea of women in power.
Written by Ruth Jane