Polyandry in SA: Five must-read stories on the proposal

South Africans have fiercely debated a proposal to allow a woman to be married to more than one man at the same time. Stock photo.
South Africans have fiercely debated a proposal to allow a woman to be married to more than one man at the same time. Stock photo.
Image: Iakov Filimonov/123rf

The topic of polyandry, or a woman having more than one husband, has been a hot topic of conversation in SA this week.

This comes after the department of home affairs gazetted a new green paper for the Marriage Act, earlier this month. 

One of the proposals in the gazette is the recognition of polyandry, which would allow women to be married to more than one man at the same time. In SA, only polygyny is currently recognised, which means men can have more than one wife.

Members of the public have until the end of June to comment.

The proposal sparked fierce debates in parliament and on social media. Here are five must-read stories on the topic: 

Where the debated started

The debate started in parliament when MPs discussed the introduction of a new green paper on marriages. 

During a hybrid plenary sitting of parliament last Tuesday, Al Jama-ah party leader Ganief Hendricks said polyandrous marriages would confuse children. 

“You can imagine when a child is born more DNA tests will be needed to discover who the father is. The problem is only going to get worse,” he said.

DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone slammed Hendricks for his comments, saying they were insulting to women and he should be investigated by the parliamentary ethics committee. 

“In this day and age, in the year 2021, to think a public representative of this country would dare stand up in the parliament of SA and say something like that is an absolute disgrace. I want it referred to the ethics committee, and may I say that the only woman in this country who would possibly feel that way is his wife,” she said.

Christian leaders weigh in 

African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe and the president of the SA National Christian Forum Bishop Marothi Mashashane disagreed with the proposal. 

Meshoe said polyandry would be a conflict if a woman was “shared” by three men and they all wanted her on the same night. 

“When a man would want to have his wife that night, and the other men also want to have her, what are you going to do? What is she going to do? That might lead to those men confronting each other. Men are jealous,” said Meshoe.  

Mashashane said the proposal was “a disgrace and mockery to both our religion and our African cultures”.

“According to the Bible, which we believe in, polyandry is considered sexual immorality, like the marriage between people of the same sex, and we shall by no means bless such a relationship as a marriage,” he said.

Spilt public opinions on the proposal

On social media, scores — including media personality Bonang Matheba and actress Bonnie Mbuli — welcomed the proposal, saying women should have the freedom to do what they want.

Mbuli encouraged SA to be open to the idea and that “sharing is caring”.

“The same thing that happens when she has one man. She gets to decide who she wants to sleep with at any given time, and anyway, women have far more stamina than men so azishe,” she said.

TimesLIVE also ran a poll asking whether polyandry should be legal in SA.  A total of 43.67% of voters said it should be, while 39.32% believed the proposal was “un-African”.

Home affairs minister disappointed with 'war of words' on the proposal

Home affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi expressed disappointment over what he called “a war of words and cynicism” on the proposal.

“It was with very deep disappointment that the envisaged national dialogue descended into a war of words and cynicism about one and only one issue raised from the ministerial dialogue — the issue of polyandry,” said Motsoaledi.

He called on South Africans to conduct the national dialogue responsibly and in the true spirit of nation building. 

“Please let us lower the excitement and deal with the very important issues mentioned by our people who experience serious hardships in their everyday existence in their endeavour to build viable families — which every nation on earth strives for — for there is no nation without families,” he said.

Reality show polygamist says polyandry is an 'insult'

Polygamist Musa Mseleku added his two cents on polyandry, saying it would never work.

Speaking to TshisaLIVE, the Uthando Nes'thembu star said making polyandry legal in SA would in essence be an insult to existing African traditions, cultures and practices, such as polygyny. 

“There’s a reason we are seed carriers as men. One of those reasons is to make sure we build families based on values, customs and traditions,” he said. 

“We have to build a nation where we will have people who are going to grow out of being raised by proper, functional families. What I see here, what is going to happen, we are going to have a rise in fragmented families who are not going to be carrying any particular form of direction in terms of raising families.”