I do, I do, I do

2009-05-14 00:00

It’s amazing how many people who know I am a feminist assume that I am disapproving of Jacob Zuma’s polygamy.

So, the man has two official wives, Getrude Sizakele Khumalo and Nompumelelo Ntuli, and three fiancées awaiting traditional betrothal. So what?

There is deep hypocrisy when it comes to much of the discussion with regard to monogamy and marriage in this country, which many view through a Western, usually religious and quite infantile “romantic” paradigm.

The myth of the prince on the muscular steed who comes to claim his princess is exactly that — a myth, a fantasy, a sweet little narrative that fuels a multi-billion rand global wedding industry.

Years ago, I researched a story about arranged Indian marriages and was surprised to find that many of these unions — at least those where both parties were not forced into the relationship — were more likely to survive than couples who had married after “falling in love”.

Couples interviewed said they entered the relationship with very different expectations, were more likely to compromise and that many grew to love their partners over the years.

I was interested to read that Zuma’s first wife is slightly older than he is and that she was his childhood sweetheart. He has also described her as his “sister” and “soul mate” and she continues to live at his homestead. They have no children, so I imagine that the decision that her husband take another wife was one that occurred in a cultural context in which she felt comfortable.

Ma Khumalo and Zuma have been married for 50 years and those of us who have made it past the 10-year mark will understand how relationships ebb, flow and change over time.

There are enough studies that prove that many men in forced monogamous marriages experience what has now generally been termed a “midlife” crisis and suddenly run off with a younger woman.

I know of several first wives who have found themselves in this unenviable position, who did not see it coming and who were utterly shattered when it did. All of them had believed it would not happen to them.

One of my friends was actually forced to leave the family home and start over again with very little support or material sustenance. From my perspective, Ma Khumalo’s arrangement seems much more practical and honest.

It stands to reason that things cannot always be easy for the women of the Zuma household. I am not sure how the issue of Zuma’s having had unprotected sex with the HIV-positive young family friend who accused him of rape would have been addressed.

Many of us would love to understand the dynamics and how it all works, and whether the women indeed feel disempowered by it all. But in the end, we must remember, they are there by choice.

South Africa is a deeply patriarchal society. Look at the multitudes of men who flock to receive Angus Buchan’s Christian message that they are the God-ordained “heads of the household”.

The statistics in South Africa show otherwise — most households are headed by single mothers. I think women would be happy if the fathers of their children were simply just involved partners rather than regarded rather undeservedly as “heads of the household” and the disproportionate divine power that seems to imply.

But hey, if women are happy to put up with this, then it is also their choice.

Of course, all marriage — religious or cultural — is about children and family, and the only prerequisite I would set is that men (and women) first ensure that they are able to support the children they produce in whatever marriage it is they enter with their spouses.

Of course, the best thing for a free woman like me is that I too can choose the type of relationship I have with my partner and that, in the end, is the beauty of the Constitution that is the supreme law of this country.

— Women24.

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