Confessions of a side chick

2015-03-15 15:00

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Are affairs the new normal? Zinhle Mapumulo examines evidence that women are now just as keen to jump on the cheating bandwagon as men

For every cheating man, there’s the “other woman”. She may have agreed to be the mistress or found herself in a love triangle she never knew existed, but whichever way you look at it, she is the side chick.

Local research suggests that many South Africans see nothing wrong with being the “spare wheel” in a relationship. In fact, a study conducted in 2008 by the Soul City Institute for Health & Development Communication found that women were more tolerant of the practice than men.

Although the study may be seven years old, the researchers who conducted it say it could be even more widespread now. And marriage counsellors say the number of couples who seek therapy because of extramarital affairs and broken trust is increasing at an alarming rate in South Africa.

A case in point is singer Kelly Khumalo, arguably one of the country’s most famous side chicks, and the not-so-secret mistress of late Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa.

She allegedly scratched and hit Meyiwa’s wife, Mandisa Mkhize, during a catfight on Joburg’s M1 highway in 2013. Then, months after Meyiwa’s death, Khumalo took up with married maskandi musician Zamokwakhe “Bhaka” Nzama. But that went sour at last month’s Metro FM Music Awards when she attacked him – “by accident”, she claims – for refusing to leave his wife for her.

The Soul City study, undertaken in 10 southern African countries, polled 179 single and married men and women in urban and rural areas, as well as in informal settlements. Participants were as young as 15; most were older than 20.

Findings showed that both men and women talked about men having a “steady” partner – a wife or girlfriend they were committed to – and secret girlfriends.

Men gave three main reasons for this: seeking sexual satisfaction; being driven by peer pressure; and a strong belief they were naturally inclined to have more than one partner. Women also cited sexual satisfaction, but added money and material benefits to their motivations.

The study found these side relationships were common among both adults and younger people. As for the side partners, they were happy with the situation, as long as their needs were met.

Dr Sue Goldstein, programme director at Soul City, last week said: “People talked about it as if it were a norm to have more than one sexual partner. Some laughed at the idea of having one partner, saying they would be bored if they were monogamous.”

Dr Lindiwe Maduna, a psychologist specialising in relationships and marriage therapy, said the findings held true today.

But while they may be the norm, side relationships cause damage.

Maduna said she was seeing ever more couples in need of counselling because of extramarital affairs.

“It’s not just men who are in the wrong, but increasingly women as well,” she said. “It is as if infidelity has come into fashion and women don’t want to be left behind.”

Although Goldstein could make no comment based on science about what may have changed in the seven years since the study was conducted, she said the practice could be even more widespread now.

Women are finding their space in society and “are more liberated”, she said.

A South African female participant told researchers at the time: “It’s because now we are discerning – we know the difference between good sex and bad sex. You carry on with the other one if he gives you other things, but you know he just doesn’t do it for you sexually.”

Goldstein and Maduna cautioned that the risks of having side partners outweighed the short-lived pleasure. And it was not just about the emotional fallout.

In a country where more than 10% of the population is HIV positive, Goldstein said “it has been proven time and again that having multiple sexual partners increases the risk of a person being infected with HIV”.

Maduna agreed, adding that “it’s not just HIV that cheating people should be worried about, but also a possible violent reaction from their partners when they discover what has been happening behind their backs”.

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