...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
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
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 [sic] Erich Viedge [of Polyamory South Africa] 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,”
Cultural activists and religious leaders have rubbished the discussion on
polyandry, which sparked a heated debate in Parliament recently. ...
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.