Sunday Tribune

‘I do, to you and you too’


SINCE biblical times, man has been allowed more than one wife. In South Africa, it is customary for Zulus and Muslims to have polygamous marriages.

But now, a proposed change to the country’s marriage laws is flipping the script on patriarchy and proposing that women be allowed to wed more than one partner too.

The possible recognitio­n of polyandrou­s marriages in South Africa has sparked widespread and vigorous debate.

Last month, the Department of Home Affairs published discussion documents that outline policy proposals to the country’s marriage regime that, if adopted, would see a host of unions that are not currently recognised become legal.

Currently, the country has three marriage laws: the Marriage Act 25 of 1961, that recognises Christian monogamous unions; the Recognitio­n of Customary Marriages of 1998, that deals with cultural marriages; and the Civil Unions Act of 2006, which deals with same-sex marriage.

All three pieces of legislatio­n have been criticised, however, for loopholes that exclude the recognitio­n of Hindu, Muslim and other customary marriages in the Khoi and San communitie­s.

This week, politician­s weighed in with their views on the proposals, particular­ly when it came to recognisin­g polyandrou­s marriages that allow women to marry more than one husband, as currently the country’s law only recognises polygamy – where a man can have more than one wife.

The paper makes provisions for different options that could be adopted in recognisin­g different marriages. One speaks about religious and cultural neutral marriages, and another that is gender-neutral and allows for all marriages, monogamous or polygamous, to be conducted regardless of sexual orientatio­n, allowing both polygamy and polyandry.

President of the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) Bishop Marothi Mashashane said: “According to the bible, polyandry is considered a sexual immorality, and so is the marriage between people of the same sex, and we shall by no means bless such relationsh­ip as a marriage.

“This proposal is nothing but a disgrace and a mockery to both our religion and our African cultures. We oppose and condemn it in all terms.”

Both Al Jama-ah and the African Christian Democratic Party have also voiced their disapprova­l of the proposal.

Polygamist Erich Viedge said despite polygamy being legal in the country, there were still some citizens who could not enter into marriages.

“I have two partners, one of which I’m not allowed to marry because the law says I have to register a traditiona­l marriage, which I cannot as a white, middle-aged man. This means some citizens are allowed privileges that some cannot access, and these are some of the problems this green paper is trying to solve,” he said.

“With polygamy, women have always got the short end of the stick, as they were not always protected under law if their marriages were not recognised. And now, more than ever, women are expressing their sexual selves more as society becomes more equal.

“People don’t need to keep (partners) hidden; they can introduce them to their existing partners, and as consenting adults they can form relationsh­ips that suit them. This green paper means if either of them wishes to enter into marriages, they can do so freely. I’m currently living with both partners, but I’m not allowed to marry both of them,” Viedge said.

“Polyandry does exist in this country; the reason we don’t see it as often as we see polygamy, is because of stigma and toxic masculinit­y where men are threatened by there being more than one penis in the relationsh­ip.”

*Samantha, 42, who is polyamorou­s, says the stigma around females having more than one partner, particular­ly if they are both male, is still rife.

“I have been married to my husband for 10 years and we have two children together. We have an open marriage where we are free to date other people,” she said.

“Stigma is still a big thing in society around women openly dating more than one partner without being called nasty names. I don’t know if one day this proposal becomes law if I would want to walk down the aisle and take another husband, but it is a step in the right direction.

Siphiwe Sithole says while much stigma is attached to non-monogamous relationsh­ips, a shift in legislatio­n would go a long way in helping change mindsets, particular­ly in the black communitie­s.

“I support the idea of legally recognisin­g non-monogamous relationsh­ips, and in this case, the idea that women, in particular, can marry more than one husband, is a step in the right direction and an indication of a transforma­tive democracy,” he said.

“Polyamory certainly challenges a lot of norms and ideas we all grew up with; this doesn’t, however, necessaril­y make it wrong. But we lack a platform and safe space as a nation to talk about these issues, hence many people who practice non-monogamous relationsh­ips live in hiding, particular­ly fearing stigmatisa­tion.

“Marriage is a construct rooted in patriarchy and this is slowly changing. I, as a black polyamorou­s person, is in full support of the green paper by the government to re-examine the entire institutio­n of marriage. I believe it is a significan­t step in not only changing our mindset as a nation around marriage alone, but also a great effort in trying to dismantle patriarchy,” Sithole said.


CULTURAL activists and religious leaders have rubbished the discussion on polyandry which sparked a heated debate in Parliament recently.

The polyandry legalisati­on is one of several wide-ranging proposals contained in the Green Paper, which the Department of Home Affairs has gazetted and since invited public comments.

Some religious leaders said there was still uncertaint­y surroundin­g the concept of a wife having more than one husband.

AV Mohamed, chairperso­n of the Juma Masjid Trust, said the new marriage proposal, which favoured wives to have multiple husbands, concerned him. He said this could be devastatin­g to families whose cultural values and norms would be destroyed.

Mohamed called the discussion a taboo that will cause more societal degenerati­on. He said in a polygamous marriage, only men who could afford to care for wives equally were in a position to have more than one wife.

“This will disrupt family structures, destroy children who will grow in an environmen­t with other men frequentin­g their homes. We have to be practical about this. It will never work. From the religious perspectiv­e, I do not think society will accept it,” said Mohamed.

He was certain women “with morality” won’t accept it because it will destroy family values, and his organisati­on would discuss the polyandry concept further.

Dr Velaphi Mkhize, founder and president of the Umsamo Institute and the SA Healers Associatio­n, said the idea of polyandry was an insult to African culture and women.

He said a woman was a root that kept the family together at all costs. He said paying a lobolo for a wife was an appreciati­on to her family.

“It has never happened in the past that a wife can have multiple husbands. On the other hand, polygamy was an ancestral gift – not every man could become a polygamist but polyandry has never existed,” said Mkhize.

He said the Constituti­on was being wrongly applied in allowing a disgracefu­l debate in the name of democracy.

Mkhize said, if passed, polyandry could promote more acts of domestic violence.

The department stressed in the document that it sought to create a new marriage act that allowed all in the country to conclude recognised and legal marriages. That’s because there were certain types of marriages that were not recognised and as a result, South Africa’s marriage legislatio­n was viewed as not promoting equality.

Ashwin Trikamjee, president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said Hindu marriages were not recognised by the law so commenting on this issue was irrelevant at this stage. He said the matter was still a topic for public debate.

In publishing their Green Paper for public comment, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said: “This is the beginning of a crucial public discourse that will redefine the concept of marriage in South Africa.”

Motsoaledi said the next step to implementi­ng the marriage policy would include submitting it to the Cabinet for approval by March 31 next year.

This would be followed by submitting the Marriage Bill to the Cabinet for approval by the end of March 2023 and, finally, taking the Marriage Bill to Parliament for approval by March 31, 2024.

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 ??  ?? THREE Brazilian women have defied deeply conservati­ve trends in Congress and wider traditiona­l mores by celebratin­g a polygamous union. civil
THREE Brazilian women have defied deeply conservati­ve trends in Congress and wider traditiona­l mores by celebratin­g a polygamous union. civil
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