South Africa’s Home Affairs last week proposed legislations to allow women to marry more than one husband, just as polygamous men can have many wives.
Tagged the Green Paper on Marriages, the 67-page policy document seeks to create a new marriage act that will foster gender equality and legalize some other forms of marriage.
Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Rastafarian marriages were not recognized by South African law and the Green Paper also puts up proposals for their recognition, saying the failure to recognize these religious marriages is “untenable and discriminatory.”
Home Affairs hosted ministerial dialogues in 2019 and 2020 before producing the Green Paper, during which Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and officials heard from stakeholders, including traditional leaders, religious leaders, academics and LGBT and gender activists.
“Moreover, activists submitted that equality demands that polyandry be legally recognized as a form of marriage,” said the document.
The Green Paper proposed three new marriage regimes it maintained could bring about equality in marriage laws: inclusive customary and religious marriage regime; religion and culture-neutral marriage regime; and a gender-neutral marriage regime.
“This would accommodate both polygyny and polyandry,” the paper said, adding:
“The difference between options 2 and 3 is that this option is gender-neutral. Therefore, all marriages, whether monogamous or polygamous, could be concluded regardless of the sex or sexual orientation of the person.”
Polyandry and polygamy elicited controversy during the ministerial hearing, where traditional leaders called polyandry “unacceptable and un-African.”
South Africans have until the end of June 2021 to comment on the proposals.
Pretoria LGBT activist Lebo Khumalo said: “It is about time this became a norm. For instance, we are recognized as same-sex couples, but that we do not have the freedom to marry more than one partner – that is a downside.”
Khumalo said he believed in marrying more than one partner.
“This of course is misunderstood, but it’s, for us, no different from that of straight men. For instance, I could want to marry a second husband if there are issues my husband cannot meet, or if I needed the strength and resources to uplift my family. Let the laws of the land allow this.”
Cebile Chabedi, another South African quoted by an SA medium said the institution of marriage was being messed up with the concept of polyandry. Polygamy, she said, was already outdated and should be outlawed.
“Get rid of it. It once served a purpose, but values have been lost along the way and now no one knows what purpose it serves. Imagine allowing women to marry more than one man; that is a recipe for disaster. Not only because men are actively jealous and can get violent over who they ‘possess’, but even as nature states, no two bulls can live in the same kraal,” she said.
Bonginkhosi Malaza, a culture and traditional expert, said: “Polygamy has its roots in certain cultural aspects and was put in place to fulfill a gap in society. What informs a woman marrying more than one husband, if not for revenge, if not for power, if not to command a position in society?”
Home Affairs said it was aware its process was bound to ruffle feathers, but maintained the changes were necessary.
“This is the beginning of a crucial public discourse that will re-define the concept of marriage in South Africa,” it said, adding that the proposal would “encourage dialogue within the South African and international communities.”