Durban - King Goodwill Zwelithini has taken aim at the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act for disempowering polygamist men from taking additional wives without getting written consent from their existing wives.
The king’s comments during the opening ceremony of the House of Traditional Leaders in Ulundi late last week received censure from three gender equality and women’s rights activists.
During the ceremony, the king expressed concern that the government had passed the law without consulting traditional leaders, whose communities would be affected.
“In short, this law stipulates that when an African man wants to take a second or third wife he should first get a written concession from the already existing wife.
“As a Zulu, this was never heard of, even during the old days,” he said.
The king then called on the government to review the law with immediate effect through consultation with him and other traditional leaders.
“If we do not agree over this law, we should invite the Constitutional Court to intervene,” he said.
The king also queried a law which he said gave the first wife absolute power when it came to property in the marriage after the husband died.
While the king commended the constitution for protecting traditional leadership, he argued that the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act was among one of many laws affecting traditional leadership that the government had passed without consulting traditionalists.
“As Zulus, we were not consulted, instead only the views of the well-educated were listened to.
“Most of them only know our customs through studying them from books,” he said.
He told the audience of hundreds, including members of his traditional army - who were armed with traditional weapons - that the time had come “to draw the line”.
“Yes, we respect the government, but we also wish that it must also respect us as citizens who have chosen a certain lifestyle,” he said.
He accused the government of prioritising English and the cultures of the country’s various minority groups over those of indigenous people. “In the past 21 years since the dawn of democracy, I never even once heard government passing on its best wishes, through newspaper adverts, for any Zulu ceremony.
He felt humiliated to notice how little money the government spent on sponsoring Zulu ceremonies compared with those of other cultural groups.
“I say it is now time to immediately sit down with the government so that we can understand its policies and where they are going,” he said.
Responding to the king’s comments on marriage, the spokesman for the Commission for Gender Equality, Javu Baloyi, said the Act should not be interfered with because it protected married women.
“We do not want a situation where two women are quarrelling because there had never been an effort from the first one to agree or refuse this marriage,” he said.
He said a man who wanted to have more than one wife should indicate at the beginning of the relationship with the first wife what he intended doing in the future.
“I must not say halfway into the marriage that I want a second wife, whereas I did not even show that I believe in the culture of having more than one wife,” Baloyi said.
Vincentia Dlamini-Ngobese, the
Women and Men Against Child Abuse operations director, said South Africans should not allow the nation to be taken backwards.
“Especially when there are issues around sexual health because these are multi-sexual partners. This should be discussed in terms of the safety of the woman,” said Dlamini-Ngobese.
Independent women’s rights expert Kubi Rama, who is the former deputy chief executive officer for Gender Links, described polygamy as a practice that was unfair to women.
“To call for an amendment to remove the requirement for men to have to get consent from their wives, erodes any power women have in the situation.
“We should be calling for an end to polygamy.”