Picture: Polyandry by Gan Khoon Lay from the Noun Project (Creative Commons Licence).
Picture: Polyandry by Gan Khoon Lay from the Noun Project (Creative Commons Licence).

Heated debate around polyandry shows some South Africans remains culturally conservative

By Editorial Time of article published May 19, 2021

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One of the proposals in the Green Paper was whether polyandry should be legalised

Ever so often the debate around issues in the public domain will get South Africans hot under the collar.

Perhaps that’s a sign that our democracy remains vibrant, and the citizenry vigilant to the issues which affect them.

Recently the calls for public comment by the Department of Home Affairs on its latest Green Paper elicited a flurry of debate because one of the proposals in the paper was whether polyandry should be legalised.

Before last week many South Africans had never heard the term, but as soon as it was explained that a change to the Marriages Act, as suggested in the Green Paper, would allow a woman to marry more than one husband, the proverbial cat was set among the pigeons. In no time traditionalists emerged from their burrows, protesting and stating such a move was a misguided attempt from gender activists to equalise men and women.

The criticism from those espousing traditional and long-held cultural values is ironic because it’s the same constitutional order which legalised and protects practices like polygamy.

When men marry more than one wife, an eyebrow might be raised but not much more. There are even reality television shows about the practice.

Like polygamy is the exception to the rule, don’t expect to see thousands of women rushing off to Home Affairs offices to enter into polyandrous marriages, should it be legalised in the future.

The responses to the Green Paper have also been revealing because it has once again shown that, on the whole, South Africa remains culturally conservative. But while South Africans might be considered conservative, we are also tolerant of those who do not share our cultural practices, for ours is a country that is a melting pot.

We’ve seen what happens in other countries where intolerance and bigotry are used as a political tool to advance one group over the other.

It’s for that reason that these issues should be debated to see whether they square up to our Constitution.

It can only be when we are all considered equal before the law that we can be protected from rights abuses.

The Star

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