Minister of the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana.

Cape Town -

The government cannot stop a woman entering a polygamous marriage because it is protected by the constitution, but decried the “abhorrent practice” of forced marriages or ukuthwala, Minster of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana said.

In response to a written parliamentary question from Cope MP Constance Mosimane on Monday, Xingwana defended polygamy. She, however, denounced the practice of ukuthwala which is still prevalent in places like Lusikisiki near Mbizana in the Eastern Cape.

“South Africa is a diverse and multi-cultural society as articulated in Chapter 2, Section 9 of the constitution, that (prescribes that) the state may not discriminate on the basis of culture, religion amongst others. Polygamy is not a crime in this country and therefore the minister cannot prevent an adult woman of sound mind who makes a conscious decision and choice for such a marriage.”

Mosimane had asked whether the department intended to embark on awareness campaigns “to educate women about the pros and cons of polygamous marriages”.

Xingwana said the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of1998 recognised that polygamy was practiced in certain cultures and religions.

To highlight her point, the minister cited the right of women and children to inherit from their husbands or fathers’ estate.

Xingwana was quick to caution though, the rights to polygamous marriages and inheritance was different from the “abhorrent practice” of ukuthwala.

She cited the most recent case, in which the Wynberg Regional Court in Cape Town sentenced Mvumeleni Jezile, 32, to a 22 years’ imprisonment for kidnapping, forcefully marrying, raping and assaulting a 14-year-old girl in 2010.

The teenager, from Ngcobo in the Eastern Cape had escaped from Jezile’s clutches but was returned to him by her grandmother and uncle. When she still resisted he abducted her to Cape Town where he assaulted and repeatedly raped her.

She escaped again and the police were alerted.

Jezile is to appeal against his conviction and sentence by magistrate Daleen Greyvensteyn, the first for ukuthwala.

While Greyvensteyn granted him leave to appeal she denied him bail.

“That crime was committed against the young woman’s will and amounted to abduction and statutory rape. It also means that the girl was denied the right to education and to choose the future she wants,” said Xingwana.

She said she had on many occasions spoken out against forced marriages and visited hot spots with colleagues at national, provincial and local government in places such as Lusikisiki.

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Cape Times