Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Polygamy in Botswana ÔÇô the more the merrier?

A while ago Kgosi Kebinatshwene Mosielele of Manyana stirred a hornet’s nest when he proposed that polygamy should be legalized.

While hot blooded Batswana men’s curious silence was seen as a tacit “nudge nudge wink wink” to the outspoken traditional leader, feisty feminists were itching to burn him at the stakes. Most however dismissed him as a retrogressive dinosaur stuck in a time warp somewhere between the stone-age and the dark-age. But of course they were wrong. Research shows that monogamy is unraveling.

Professor Darren Langdridge, a clinical therapist at the Open University, non-monogamous relationships are “surprisingly common” and “the numbers are increasing”.

In fact, a new dating website, Open Minded, is creating buzz because it’s designed not for cheaters but for people who want open relationships. According to its founder, women and men are increasingly seeking romantic partners outside their marriage and want to be open about it.

Peace Tatenda who is in a polygamous marriage to a Zezuru man seems to be the answer to the marriage question that has most information age marriage experts wrecking their brains: “I’m a sister wife, my husband has four other wives and we live as if we’re sisters ÔÇôwe are family after all. An average Zezuru girl is shown her future husband when she is just 12. Our elders say a child must be shown a husband aged 12 so she can know the husband and when she is around 18 she gets married. The culture of sharing among the Zezuru goes beyond women sharing a man, in our tradition, when you have something, it is for you and the others. It is a gift from God and you should share it with others, my father had four wives. We are born in such families”

Tatenda is not exactly an exceptional case, even outside the Zezuru group, a number of Batswana Muslims and even Christians still practice polygamy. In justifying polygamy, Kgosi Mosielele explained that customary law allows a man to marry the first wife and with the permission of the wife and the family, he can take the second, third and the fourth wife. He said in the past the practice mostly applied when the first wife was barren and divorce was not allowed. “In Botswana men are more than women, who do you think will marry the other unmarried ladies if we continue to marry once,” he asked.

He pointed out that most married men have concubines which predispose the family to HIV/AIDS. He said if polygamy were practiced it would be easy for couples to manage HIV/AIDS as they would go for testing together at once. “We always attend to cases of passion killings and marriage wrecking, and polygamy is the solution as all wives and children would be in one place” he argued.

His argument is backed by Edna Munatsi  from Taung near Ramotswa village who is one of three wives married to a Zezuru husband who insists that HIV/AIDS spreads mainly because of promiscuity and not because a man has more than one wife. She says in the HIV/AIDS era polygamy is a far healthier marital arrangement than the one wife and countless ‘small houses’, or even prostitutes. They point out that for polygamy to work well; all the women must accept the tradition.

She says “it is much safer to have two or more wives legally than to have several illegitimate partners. In our church, men who practice polygamy would never cheat on their wives which promote a healthy lifestyle because AIDS can only come to a man who engage in extramarital sex.”

Thabiso Gulubane of Maphwakwane & Partners in Gaborone says Polygamy is a bit hard to explain in Botswana. “Legally, only a marriage between a single man and woman is permissible, though there is a notable loophole. A man can marry his first wife (or village wife) under customary law, and then marry his second under civil law. While the practice was thought to have long disappeared from the region, it has been noted that polygamous unions are still active in Botswana, though not particularly common. It has also been reported that a number of problems have resulted from polygamous unions in the country, such as divorce battles, sexual abuse and a higher spread of HIV/AIDS.”

Khumo Sebogodi who works at Seeff Properties in Gaborone says “polygamy among Batswana women would probably be a disaster. Imagine if a younger prettier lady were to enter such a woman’s home as a second wife; she’s bound to make the poor woman’s life a living hell, there’s always drama and “issues” with some women, there would never be peace when one shares a husband with such a type of woman.”

Modise Nkwe who works as an accountant at Northern Fixtures in Gaborone says polygamy will never go away. “Today’s dating is more or less like polygamy, guys date more than one girl at a time.  It is a dream come true to have more than one partner. When one gives you a headache you go to the other one to cool off. If polygamy was legal there would not be so many divorces. Polygamy is part of our culture and it has always been there.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.