Can men be in monogamous relationships?
IN the 90s, they were referred to as sugar daddies. This kind of “daddy” had a very simple job — to take care of his girl’s financial needs and make sure everything else she needed was seen to. The name, which is an obvious reference to the age difference between the two, highlighted how the man gave the girl all the sweet things she could think of using his financial muscle.
In most instances, sugar daddies were moneyed up married men with children, some as old as their girlfriends. Back then, the phenomenon was broadly shunned as it proliferated transactional sex and fuelled the spread of HIV, whose blowout was like an uncontrollable raging fire.
But before long, daddy had a “small house”. In this set-up, the girlfriend played wifely roles from a house or flat rented or bought by the older man. Again, his job was to make sure his woman was catered for and hers was to meet the needs his wife assumedly couldn’t. This relationship in some instances easily transcended into a marriage.
Then came the “side-chick”, who somewhat had to put up with less attention. She only had to make herself available as and when the man needed her and in return got financial favours.
Later came the blesser phenomenon, which got social networking sites abuzz with “blessers” and “blessed” women. A blesser is what some have described as the modern day sugar daddy except he doesn’t necessarily have to be old.
The term blessee came to be after young women — most who are jobless — who would post pictures of themselves sipping cocktails on the beach, popping bottles in the club or at holiday resorts using the hashtag #blessed on social media. A “blesser” (giver) blesses his “blessee” (recipient) with anything from money and weaves to overseas holidays and designer clothing and accessories.
But along with these trends also came a unique set of problems. Every other day, women from all corners of the country find themselves in catfights with their men’s “side dish” — under the pretext of protecting their marriages. Some have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, having to answer to assault charges among other crimes committed in moments of anger.
In a recent case that involved married women fighting their husbands’ “side dishes,” two Namibian students were attacked after three Bulawayo women allegedly ganged up to kidnap and assault them accusing them of bedding one of their husbands.
The trio recorded the incident, which went viral on social media. Many condemned these women saying they should have taken up the issue with the man in question.
The question is — can men really stay in monogamous relationships and stay faithful to one partner?
“Polygamy dates back to centuries ago. It has been practised in different cultures across the world. Polygamy was widely accepted throughout the world until the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church imposed the rules of having just one wife,” said Mr Sandile Dube, a cultural enthusiast.
He said before the coming of Christianity and “civilisation”, polygamy was acceptable in African societies.
“Men were permitted to have more than one wife. Of course the reasons for marrying a second or third wife were varied. It could’ve been because the first wife was infertile or failure to bear a son by the first and second wife,” said Mr Dube. Although polygamy came with its own problems such as strife and hatred, he said, the system worked for many families.
“Back in the day, polygamous men had many children who contributed cheap labour as they practised subsistence farming. Instead of engaging in illicit affairs, men were encouraged to marry the woman they were involved with. It was acceptable for a man to be in a relationship with more than one woman. But of course, this was a choice one was allowed to make and it wouldn’t necessarily be forced on them,” said Mr Dube.
Polygamy soon fell off with the advent of the HIV/ Aids pandemic. Legislative reforms in the country also contributed to the death of polygamy as more and more people took up one man one woman marriages under Chapter 5:11 of the Marriage Act which binds a couple to each other at law. But with both legal frameworks in place and HIV still lingering, men still engage in extramarital affairs.
“Times have changed and no woman wants to share her man with anyone. But today, if a man is involved in an affair, the wife is told by her elders that men have always sought audience with other women. You don’t leave your husband, you stay faithful and make the marriage work,” said Ms Grace Ncube, a gender activist.
It is acceptable for men to stray but when it is a woman engaging in extra-marital affairs, she is labelled all sorts of unprintable names, she said.
“It’s really unfortunate that patriarchy has defended men and allowed certain vices to continue. The treatment of women as second class citizens and the ‘other’ hasn’t really completely disappeared,” said Ms Ncube.
Although there are men who can remain faithful to one partner, she said, most wander.
“Even men of the cloth cheat. You can never put anything past someone because of their religion or social standing. The biggest problem however is women who then attack their men’s girlfriends. They need to understand that they’re not in a relationship with the woman but with the man therefore any confrontation should be addressed to him,” she said.
In terms of the Customary Marriages Act Chapter 5:07 (it used to be known as Chapter 238), a man may marry more than one wife legally. Each marriage will have its own certificate. A man may also pay lobola for more than one wife.
On the other hand, if a man marries in terms of the Marriage Act Chapter 5:11 (it used to be called Chapter 37); he may not, while that marriage is still in existence, marry another wife. Criminal law has created an offence called bigamy.
The crime of bigamy according to the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act attracts a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or both.
“An important thing to understand is that I wouldn’t have entered into a contract with the woman, but the man so she mustn’t question me but her husband. I don’t owe her anything after all. But in some cases, these guys don’t even tell you they’re married until you’re too deep into the relationship,” said a woman who is in a relationship with a married man.
Others use the Bible as justification for having more than one wife. In a research conducted by Women and Law in Southern Africa, some women indicated that they want polygamy to stay. They “blamed” women in towns for speaking on their behalf without getting their views. They also expressed the view that a co-wife whom you know is better than one who stays in the shadows.
“I see nothing wrong with openly being in a relationship or marriage with more than one woman,” said Madzibaba Kuda Muchemwa.
“Co-wives can discuss the welfare of the family and make sure that their husband will not go ‘hunting’ again. Resources are kept within the family. Other women even take their nieces to also join them as co-wives believing that it is better to have a co-wife that one is related to than a stranger. Some older women even encourage their polygamous husband to take younger wives as they will no longer be too sexually active.”
Enthusiasts argue that polygamy is part of Zimbabwean culture and it is better to practise it openly instead of resorting to small houses. “As long as the man involved is able to support all his women financially and also if he is able to treat all of them equally, especially in relation to conjugal rights, all is well,” said Madzibaba Muchemwa.
Tanzania, in 2011, rejected a recommendation by the United Nations Human Rights Council to ban polygamy especially on the basis that almost 50 percent of its population belongs to a religion that allows polygamy.
Renowned human rights experts have spoken openly in favour of polygamy, arguing that human beings by nature are polygamous. — Twitter: @Yolisswa
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