Can men be in monog­a­mous re­la­tion­ships?

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/national News - Fea­ture Yoliswa Dube

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

The women who al­legedly kid­napped two Namib­ian stu­dents

Cde Chinx and his two wives

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