South African traditional marriage customs: Lobola and polygamySubmitted by Lana on Mon, 25/01/2010 - 14:27HomeMarriages are considered sacred in most societies, and especially so in the tradition-steepedcontinent of Africa. African weddings usually involve not just the coming together of the couple inquestion, but their extended families and sometimes entire communities, although traditions varyvastly across the continent. Traditional marriage practices in South Africa involve the customs of lobola and polygamy. Lobola: According to this ancient tradition, a man must pay a price to acquire the right to marry a woman. The practice continues to be followed extensively in contemporary Africansocieties. Lobola involves a complex, formal process of negotiation between the families of thebride and groom amid great ceremony, to arrive at a consensus on the price (traditionally paid innumber of cows) that the groom must pay the bride’s family.Many modern couples opt for cash instead of cows for the sake of convenience. This money can beused to help the bride set up her home; however, this is something that happens very rarely.Surprisingly, African customary law has advocates even among modern, educated women in SouthAfrica, many of whom believe that it provides them protection without hindering them in anysignificant way. In fact, women’s rights activists were among the greatest proponents of a new lawenacted in 2001 which recognises African customary law, in order to protect women living incommon-law unions and their children. Payment of the lobola, however, means that the bride ispaid for, and a divorce is not usually granted unless the bride’s family can repay the amount.Often, the lack of the means for repayment may force women to stay in unhappy or abusivemarriages. Although customary laws enjoy predominance over constitutional rights in severalAfrican countries, South Africa accords women strong constitutional protection.Polygamy: The same law of 2001, distasteful as it may seem to most modern women in otherparts of the world, also recognises polygamy – even though it is something that fewer and fewermodern South Africans practice. However, South African President Jacob Zuma’s recent marriagefor the fifth time has reignited discussion on the topic.While the press has been rather indulgent, there is open disapproval from some quarters. SouthAfrica’s AIDS scourge is attributed largely to sexual promiscuity, and the President’s examplecomplicates the process of educating the public on the importance of single-partner sexualrelationships in preventing the spread of the disease.In affirming gender equality as fundamental to South African democracy, the Constitution statesthat should there be a contradiction between customary law and the Bill of Rights, the lattershould take precedence.
The practice of polygamy is in essence the practice of gender inequality. While all customarymarriages are required to be registered to ensure that each wife in a polygamous family has anequal right to property, this still does not address the issues of neglect, or the transmission ofinfections that polygamy may entail.White South Africans are more vocally disparaging of the practice, especially so of the President’santics. Besides, in a country where only half the population is female, the acquisition by a man offive or more women is also likely to create social imbalances by denying other eligible menpartners.Image source: Media Club South AfricaAlso see:Polygamy is way for husband to cheat on his wifeBride Price – An Alternative View PointLobola is sexisthttp://www.southafricaweb.co.za/article/south-african-traditional-marriage-customs-lobola-and-polygamyHow do Zulus explain polygamy?By Elizabeth DiffinBBC News Magazine
South African president Jacob Zuma, on a visit to theUK, has been criticised by some in the British pressfor having three wives. But while the practice raiseseyebrows in the West, how is it justified in his homecountry?Trade talks and his nations hosting of the World Cup are on theagenda for Jacob Zumas three-day state visit to the UK. But interesthas mainly focused on his consort - ThobekaMadiba, the latestwoman to join his polygamous marriage.In the UK, to be married to more than one person at a time is illegal.But the Zulu ethnic group, of which Mr Zuma is part, practisespolygamy by tradition. This clash in attitudes dates from the 19thCentury, when white missionaries preached that conversion toChristianity entailed divorcing ones "extra" wives, saysNdelaNtshangase, a lecturer in the school of Zulu studies at theUniversity of KwaZulu-Natal.And British colonisers "pushed[monogamy] down the throats ofblack people" through taxes thatrose for each wife, and landallocations with insufficient spacefor polygamous family units, saysMr Ntshangase.However, polygamy in South President Zuma attributes hisAfrica is still a fact of life for many. polygamy to the Zulu cultureWhile urban Zulu communities have found it difficult to uphold thearrangement, those in the rural homelands have maintained thetradition. Muslim populations and other cultural groups in SouthAfrica also practice polygamy.While some in the British press have seized on Mr Zumas attitudesto marriage, he defends his private life as part of his culture."When the British came to our country they said everything we aredoing was barbaric, was wrong, inferior in whatever way," he toldJohannesburgs Star newspaper this week. "I dont know why theyare continuing thinking that their culture is more superior thanothers."So how do they explain the tradition?Boy-girl balanceIn southern Africa, the population skews slightly female, says MrNtshangase, who says the male population is partly depleted by"unnatural deaths" in war and other dangerous activities.
"If you say its one-to-one, you will have a big chunk of ladies whoarent going to have husbands. What do you do with them then?"But this gender imbalance argument holds no sway forProtasMadlala, an independent political analyst, who declares it"unsophisticated".Elders also use polygamy to warn young men that they could loseout on love if they dont behave."In order to win a girl, you must be a good boy," says MrNtshangase. "Responsible young men become responsiblehusbands."In Zulu culture, "every familymember must work for thebetterment of the family". And away to improve a familys statusand income is to add extramembers, he says, and adds thatadditional wives can beparticularly advantageous in anagricultural society.And polygamy offers women adegree of economic well-beingthey might not otherwise attain,says Mr Madlala. The presidents most recent wife"Polygamy fits into the socio- accompanied him on his state visiteconomic inequalities we have. It gives [the wives] insurance ofsorts."But the theory that polygamy favours equality for women holds littlewater for Leslie MxolisiDikeni, a research associate at the Universityof Pretoria."On paper there is total emancipation of women, but traditionalforms of polygamy are not allowing for that," he says. Even in so-called equal polygamous marriages, theres innate gender imbalancebetween the husband and his wives.Spectre of AidsSome of those who support polygamy believe a monogamoussystem would mean more unattached women, who would then haveaffairs with married men, says Mr Ntshangase. He claims that in apolygamous marriage, a woman will share her husband instead ofgetting divorced. "[Divorce] is another type of polygamous marriage.Its just not happening simultaneously or concurrently."
But polygamy does not stop menand women straying. SouthAfricans who are uneasy abouttheir presidents lifestyle point tothe fact that he recently fatheredan illegitimate child, says MrMadlala.Nor does it necessarily mean an Under apartheid, polygamy thrived inend to separation - Mr Zuma has rural Zulu villagesalready been through one divorce.Even though polygamy is a part of its traditions, there is a newreality that raises questions about whether this lifestyle has a placein modern South Africa. More than 5 million people in South Africaare HIV positive - the most of any country in the world."South Africa is almost the Aids capital of the world," Mr Madlalasays. "Our president is not really a good model."Below is a selection of your comments.Polygamy is the future not the past. Women get to share not onlyone man but also a sisterhood with the other wives. One man ismore than enough. The women also get to share childcare and thechildren grow up in a larger social group where there is lesslikelihood of child abuse and neglect. I can see lots of advantages.David Cadogan, RichmondPolygamy is practiced more around the world than monogamy andhas been the case since modern humans evolved. The propensity tomate polygamously can be broadly described as a culturalpreference but this is really due to many factors largely dependenton the type of environment when these practices came about andwould have been genetically advantageous. While polygamy is notas beneficial in evolutionary terms to women as it is men (unless thewoman is the first wife) I would not say this is an example of theemancipation of women. It is too easy to be dismissive and overlymoralistic when it comes to practices which we are not used to.Whether President Zuma treats each wife equally or well is besidethe point and is somewhat irrelevant to the fact that he practicespolygamy.Suzannah Lipmann, London, UKWhy anyone would want more than one wife is beyond me, butthats the way of life in some countries and who are we to tell themthey are wrong? Funny as it may seem but we are not always right
and have no right interfering in other peoples traditions. We may beopen to changing our whole way of life to accommodate every TomDick and Harry who complains about everything we do but thatsbecause we are weak and pathetic. What we should do is stand ourground and look after our own traditions. If foreigners dont likewhat we do, theyll just have to accept the way we are.Alastair, LondonWhy is it we consider Western culture the moral barometer to whichall other countries must adhere? The hegemony of Africa shouldhave ceased with the death of colonialism. Apparently our press stillbelieve themselves to be on a civilising mission, akin to Victorianmissionaries.R. Williams, LiverpoolIt is a debate that is set to continue, especially in a country withstrong Christian bias. The "wrong" thing, as far as the law andbigamy is concerned, is that a person can be prosecuted and sent tojail for having more than one wife in the UK - even if the wives livetogether and are completely happy with their situation and lifestyle.However, a married man can have many affairs with multiple womenwithout his spouses knowledge and, in the eyes of the law, he isdoing nothing legally "wrong".Masu, StocktonWhat concerns the South African taxpayer is not so much that thepresident is polygamous - but who is paying for the 4 wives (onedivorced) and 20 children? Given that the president has a trackrecord of unfortunate financial mismanagement, its doubtful that hecan afford his lifestyle on his salary. Where is the extra moneycoming from?Rob, Cape Town, South AfricaThis is one more example of the British press/media creating a moralpanic, and the west in particular pushing their values on to the restof the world. The Aids issue is not due to lax moral standards per sein third world countries, but as a result of lack of sufficientlyavailable medicines which are controlled by western pharmaceuticalcompanies and distribution of financial aid which is consistentlyreneged upon by the wealthy west. Anyone in todays world whosupports their own cultural identity and practices should becommended, not condemned. But that would not make good press.Arthur Hassall, Manchester. UKIt is an interesting point that the missionaries in the 19th centurywere encouraging people already in polygamous marriages to
divorce their extra wives ... what happened to two "wrongs" dontmake a right?Gareth, LondonPolygamy is only legal in South Africa under certain circumstances.Generally polygamy is only a choice for people who have a muchmore rural/traditional upbringing. As a Christian I believe polygamyis a wrong choice to make, but I also have to recognise and respectthat it is not my place to judge. As a republican I dont believe theroyal family is justifiable, but I have to respect that it is firmlyentrenched in British culture and would have to treat the royal familywith respect as the constitutional Monarch. Why cant British peopletreat the South African Head of State with the same respect due himas the legitimate and duly elected President of a sovereign state?What is all the fuss about?Gary MorrisonBut what about the women? Are they only allowed one husband?Surely, if women are only allowed one husband but men are allowedseveral wives each, you would need more than a "slight skew" in thepopulation male : female ratio for there not to be very largenumbers of unattached men.Helen, Berkshire, UKI believe part of the origin of polygamy in Zulu culture was becausefor a long time it was a warrior culture in which many men died. Inthat circumstance, the mans brother would have to marry thewidow - so it was a way of ensuring women were provided for. Itsalso very much a status thing. I have a Zulu friend with more thanone wife. It shows he can afford a large household (he has over 25children) and because hes a member of the royal family, itsexpected of him.Deborah, LondonPolygamy is still part of Western culture, but there is a taboo onspeaking about it. Several of my friends are in polygamousrelationships where all partners are aware of the other peopleinvolved - this is not the same as having an affair, or cheating. Theyare not married, but that does not detract from the serious footingof the relationships - which have in some cases lasted for severalyears. Regarding the risks of Aids and HIV transmission - the Polypractitioners I know are some of the most fastidious practitioners ofsafe and protected sex. Moreso than many of the serial monogamypractitioners I know, who will have a series of liaisons with peoplewhose names they dont even know and wont be able to remember
the following morning whether they even used protection.Kate Jones, Lancaster UKhttp://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8549429.stmPolygamy in South AfricaA president who promotes traditionJacob Zuma is still the old-style marryingsortJan 7th 2010 | johannesburg| from the print edition Knees up, MrPresident!AFPDECKED out in a leopard-skin mantle and an animal-pelt loincloth together with whitedesigner sneakers, South Africa’s 67-year-old president, Jacob Zuma, celebrated his marriageto his third concurrent wife (and fifth bride in all) in a grand Zulu ceremony attended bysome 3,000 guests at his family home deep in rural KwaZulu-Natal. His latest wife,ThobekaMadiba, who calls herself a “socialite”, is the mother of three of his 19 officiallyacknowledged children by at least seven women. At least one other presidential fiancée issaid to be waiting in the wings.Some South Africans, three-quarters of whom profess to be Christian, are displeased. TheReverend Theunis Botha, the white leader of the tiny Christian Democratic Party, has beenquoted disparaging the event as “a giant step back into the dark ages” of South Africa’ssupposedly superstitious, ancestor-worshipping past. But most South Africans, while
disapproving of multiple concurrent wives, enjoy their president’s unabashed embrace of hisZulu origins, beliefs and traditions, of which polygamy is an accepted part, though peoplepractise it less and less, not least because it is so expensive.Mike Siluma, a former editor of the Sowetan, a daily that is read mainly by blacks, points outthat South Africa is not the Western country so many take it to be, but a “dynamickaleidoscope of cultures, religions and traditions”. Many black South African Christians stillalso worship their ancestors, he notes. Most weddings mix the traditional with the Christian.Many people practise customary law alongside the Western kind and take traditional as wellas Western medicine. MrSiluma thinks the elevation of a Zulu from a peasant background tothe presidency of sub-Saharan Africa’s most sophisticated country may help revive some ofthe mores and cultures that had been sadly fading.In this section A long war of the waters Let my people stay Not so terrible after all? »A president who promotes traditionReprintsRelated items South Africas president: Still on a rollSep 24th 2009Related topics Polygamy Jacob Zuma South AfricaBefore MrZuma’s inauguration eight months ago people had fun speculating as to who of histhree wives would be the official First Lady. His shy first wife, known affectionately asMaKhumalo, whom MrZuma first met 50 years ago?Or one of the younger ones? All three,he determined, would be equal First Ladies. Each in turn has accompanied him on officialvisits. “There are plenty of politicians who have mistresses and children they hide so as topretend to be monogamous”, says MrZuma. “I prefer to be open. I love my wives.”His various paramours may not all be so easy-going. While MaKhumalo, whom MrZumadescribes as “wife, friend, sister and mother”, seemed happy to attend his latest nuptials,NompumeleloNtuli, at 34 the youngest of his wives, apparently boycotted the festivities. AndMrZuma’s third wife, Kate Mantsho, a former airline employee who bore him five children,committed suicide in 2000. His second wife, NkosazanaDlamini, mother of four of hischildren, divorced him in 1998, citing “irreconcilable differences”, but has remained a trustedpolitical ally. After a decade as foreign minister, she now serves in his cabinet as minister forhome affairs.Meanwhile, the indefatigable MrZuma has just completed an exchange of premarital giftswith Gloria BongiNgema, who works for IBM in Johannesburg and has a young son by thepresident. Eight years ago he also paid lobolo(bride wealth), the first step towards a
traditional marriage, to the family of SebentileDlamini, a Swazi princess. She is still waitingher turn. http://www.economist.com/node/15213994South Africa’s polygamous presidentCarolyn Moynihan | 6 Jan 2010 | (2) Emailtags :AIDS, marriage, South Africa,If the family is the basic unit of society, and if South Africa President Jacob Zuma’sfamily is any kind of model, prospects of his country finding its way out of diseaseand chaos seem slight. President Zuma has just concluded a “traditional” (Africancustomary) wedding with his third concurrent wife.Thobeka Stacey Mabhija (Madiba), a Durban socialite, married Zuma in a civil ceremonya few years ago and has been living since then in the president’s homestead with secondwife, NompumeleloNtuli. Ntuli has borne him two children and Madiba three.The woman described as his “first wife”, SizakeleKhumalo, known as MaKhumalo,presumably also lives in the Zuma compound. She has no children and is extremely shy.As eldest wife (she is in her sixties) she should be in charge, but an expert says that ifyounger wives are better educated they can decide among themselves who will run theshow.But wait, there’s more. According to this commentator there have been two other wivesand still there are two would-be brides waiting in the wings. Zuma is said to have hadabout 18 children with various women.Zuma once told a television interviewer: “There are plenty of politicians who havemistresses and children that they hide so as to pretend they’re monogamous. I prefer tobe open. I love my wives and I’m proud of my children.”One wonders how mutual these sentiments are within the clan he is building. In anycase, what sort of father can he be to his children? Furthermore, isn’t Zuma’s polygamygiving quite the wrong example to a country that has the highest rate of HIV/AIDSinfection in the world? The government’s own AIDS programme encourages people tosleep with only one partner, and he is presumably sleeping with at least three.Opposition politicians say the president’s polygamy also creates a financial burden forthe country. Christian Democratic Party leader Rev Theunis Botha described the latestwedding as “a giant step back into the dark ages” and said such ancestral practices werekeeping Africa in superstition and poverty. He implied that the churches were not takinga stand against “ancestral worship” and all that goes with it.Wonder what Nelson Mandela thinks about it all… Uh-oh. He has been married threetimes -- but at least not concurrently, and his first wife is dead. Perhaps ArchbishopDesmond Tutu, who is monogamous, as one would expect, might have something tosay. Without a proper understanding of family life it is difficult to see how South Africacan make progress.Photo: President Jacob Zuma,seen with his three wives SizakeleKhumalo, right,NompumeloNtuli, left, and ThobekaMadiba.Photograph by: MIKE HUTCHINGSCredit: AP
http://www.mercatornet.com/family_edge/view/6339Women reject polygamy, choosing divorceAbdul Khalik, THE JAKARTA POST, JAKARTA | Mon, 02/02/2009 9:29 AMA|A|A|An increasing number of Muslim women are choosing to divorce their husbands rather than continue in apolygamous marriage, data from national Islamic courts show.The courts recorded that in 2006 there were nearly 1000 cases of divorce resulting from wives’ disagreeing withtheir husbands marrying another woman, an increase from figures in prior years.Director General for Islamic guidance at the Ministry for Religious Affairs Nasaruddin Umar said Sunday hebelieved the number of divorce cases linked to disputes over polygamous marriages increased again in 2008 andwould continue to rise throughout 2009.“There has been a significant increase in divorce because women have been rejecting polygamy in recent years,”he said.Muslim scholar SitiMusdahMulia said the data indicated Muslim women were becoming increasingly aware oftheir rights and also more economically independent.“The data shows women are now daring to fight for their rights and reject male domination. They are now saying,What is the point in continuing a marriage when I am miserable", she said.Siti, a lecturer at the State Islamic University in Jakarta, said women were becoming more independent andeducated, two factors leading to a greater sense of worth and place.She said Muslim women were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and potential through the tirelessefforts of NGOs and women activists who have launched campaigns against polygamy.“This is a good sign. Efforts by organizations to raise awareness surrounding womens rights has begun to payoff, even with discussions surrounding polygamy seeing a revival among Muslims with the release of the movieAyat-ayatCinta (Verses of Love),” said Legislator NursyahbaniKatjasungkana of the National Awakening Party(PKB).Verses of Love, a film about the conditions experienced by women in polygamous relationships, was one ofIndonesias blockbuster films last year. Along with millions who flocked to see it, PresidentSusiloBambangYudhoyono and Vice President JusufKalla, also made prominent appearances at cinemas to seethe flick.Many high-ranking officials praised the film while activists accused it of acting as propaganda encouragingpolygamy.Meanwhile, polygamy is on the rise across Indonesia.
The Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Womens Association for Justice (LBH APIK) received 87 reports ofpolygamy last year, up from 16 in 2007.http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2009/02/02/women-reject-polygamy-choosing-divorce.html