Don't blame Zulu culture - experts

2010-02-03 22:13

Johannesburg - Fathering illegitimate children is frowned upon in the isiZulu culture of polygamy, experts said on Wednesday, as rumours about President Jacob Zuma's love-child refused to die down.

Newspaper headlines were unforgiving on Wednesday, with The Star claiming, "Huge pressure on president to talk about love-child", while The Times daily suggested a custom marriage had already happened.

But phone calls to Zuma's spokesperson went unanswered on Wednesday, while the ruling African National Congress said on Monday Zuma's relationship with Sonono Khoza, the daughter of soccer boss Irvin Khoza, was a private matter.

Cultural expert Ndela Nelson Ntshangase said a married Zulu man was permitted to date another woman - but having a child out of wedlock was not on.


"The married man may not need any permission from the wives to start the process of 'ukushela' [courtship; wooing; dating]. Once he does, and the wives are keen to know about it, then he may reveal it [the relationship]."

However, wives would often choose not to know about the affair and would let it be, said Ntshangase, who is a Zulu lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

In many cases, the wives only start asking for an explanation if the affair starts affecting the family's life.

But if the man decides he wants to marry the woman he is having an extra-marital affair with, his wives must agree to it first, said Ntshangase.

"It may also happen that it is the wife who sees the need for a man to share a particular girl, she sees the need for her husband to 'ukushela' a particular girl and here the wife is going to mastermind this."

Family values

There is a great emphasis on family values in the Zulu culture and the importance of children growing up with both parents.

This is why a relationship leading to the birth of an illegitimate child is not acceptable.

"Polygamy [allows]... all children to be born into a family, to have access to both parents, unlike an illegitimate child."

"If a child is born out of wedlock... the illegitimate child is in a vulnerable position, she is standing on a slippery slope [because the child is born into a broken family]," said Ntshangase.

"Hence, the culture has forbidden all those things. It's better to become the fourth wife or the second wife, for the sake of the children as well."

Customary marriage

The Times newspaper on Wednesday published a copy of the birth certificate for Thandekile Matina Zuma, who is Zuma and Khoza's 4-month-old baby.

The document asks, "Are the parents of the child married to each other", and the reply is "Yes". Under "nature of marriage", the box next to "customary" is ticked.

The document is stamped January 19, more than three months after the birth of the baby.

Professor Sihawu Ngubane, also from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said a customary marriage becomes official as soon as the couple make an oath before an induna (leader).

"What is important under the [Recognition of Customary Marriages] Act is that you [the man] must be able to take care of them [all the wives]," said Ngubane.


The payment of ilobolo does not conclude a customary marriage, he added.

"Ilobolo is just an agreement between two families on the intent to be married... The marriage is recognised [in law] when you make an oath before the induna."

Ntshangase said with the birth of a child out of wedlock, "inhlawulo" [damages] must be paid.

The minimum amount for this would be equal to the cost of two cattle and one goat, but could in some instances end up to be much more.

Gender and cultural expert Nomboniso Gasa said it seemed that Zuma's extra-marital affair took place beyond the cultural norm.

"This issue is not about whether the man is a self-proclaimed polygamist."

"Even by the standards of polygamous arrangements, the latest revelations raise many questions," she wrote in the Sowetan newspaper.

"Polygamy does not require an intimate liaison of the kind that produces a child."