Polygamy: No place in a democracy

2010-06-17 00:00

MODERN men seem to be “conveniently” choosing which parts of African culture they want to preserve and which ones they don’t.

This view comes in the wake of a number of news articles recently about prominent South African figures whose behaviour has sparked debate on whether polygamy is relevant in modern times.

Polygamy, together with a number of other African customs such as ukwaluka (male circumcision), has been part of African and certain Asian nations for ages.

Culture is transmitted through language, material objects and rituals, from one generation to the next. Dynamism, however, forms part of its definition and with that said, all its aspects are to be treated equally.

The bone of contention, polygamy, does not fit well with modern times.

In the South African context, a few men are holding on to polygamy with the pretext of preserving culture, yet the behaviour of some of them leaves much to be desired.

Women who are involved in polygamy, on the other hand, aren’t doing justice to themselves and some would argue that they are degrading themselves.

Anti-polygamists argue that some women are into it for financial security and if that’s the case, can society be blamed for judging them to be prostitutes? Is polygamy for material gain or is it in the true spirit of culture?

Late last year, Milton Mbhele, a well-known politician near Ladysmith, married four women at the same time.

The elder wife, with whom he has two children and for whom he had paid ilobola (bride price), suffered a stroke when he broke the news that he was marrying three other women as well. I interviewed her shortly after the marriage and she said she was living on hand-outs from sympathetic friends as Mbhele had instructed her to quit her job as a teacher.

Was she given an opportunity to voice her objection to the whole setup?

Recently, the wife of our polygamist President Jacob Zuma, MaNtuli, was surrounded by allegations of infidelity. How does this fit in with traditionalists who argue that a polygamist can court a woman as a way of checking if she is suitable material for a wife.

Children are born through that “checking” and no noise is made about that.

Sleeping with a woman other than your wife is wrong, and having children out of wedlock is even worse as this sends the wrong message in our country which is ravaged by HIV/Aids.

Traditionalists further argue that a man must provide for all his wives, yet apparently the Durban mansion that MaNtuli resided in was not paid for by the president.

Ukwaluka used to be performed by traditional nurses using traditional methods.

The initiates would stay in the bush for at least six months.

Because culture is dynamic, that sacred ritual is now performed in hospitals and clinics with female nurses performing the operation.

If some cultural rituals have been made to adapt to time and change, polygamy can also be subjected to the same.

Polygamy undermines the freedom and rights of women. It has no place in a democracy. It doesn’t promote gender equality and it works against the fight against HIV/Aids.

Read more: What's love got to do with it?

Read more: If you don't like polygamy, just don't do it.

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