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’I do, to you and you too’ – polyandrous marriages proposed for SA

While the poly community has welcomed proposals by the Department of Home Affairs to recognise polyandrous marriages, some religious and political organisations have decried the move. Picture: Pexels

While the poly community has welcomed proposals by the Department of Home Affairs to recognise polyandrous marriages, some religious and political organisations have decried the move. Picture: Pexels

Published May 16, 2021


Since biblical times, man has been allowed more than one wife. In South Africa, it is customary for Zulus and Muslims to have polygamous marriages. But now, a proposed change to the country’s marriage laws is flipping the script on patriarchy and proposing that women be allowed to wed more than one partner too.

The possible recognition of polyandrous marriages in South Africa has sparked widespread and vigorous debate.

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Last month, the Department of Home Affairs published discussion documents that outline policy proposals to the country’s marriage regime that, if adopted, would see a host of unions that are not currently recognised become legalised.

Currently, the country has three marriage laws, Marriage Act 25 of 1961 that recognises Christian monogamous unions, the Recognition of Customary Marriages of 1998 that deals with cultural marriages and the Civil Unions Act of 2006 which deals with same-sex marriage. All three pieces of legislation have been criticised, however, for loopholes that exclude the recognition of Hindu, Muslim and other customary marriages in the Khoi and San communities.

This week, politicians weighed in on their views on the proposals, particularly when it came to recognising polyandry marriages that allow women to marry more than one husband as currently the country’s law only recognises polygamy where a man can have more than one wife.

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The paper makes provisions for different options that could be adopted in recognising different marriages, the one speaks about religious and cultural neutral marriages and another that is gender-neutral and allows for all marriages, monogamous or polygamous to be conducted regardless of sexual orientation allowing both polygamy and polyandry.

President of the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF), Bishop Marothi Mashashane, said: “According to the bible polyandry is considered a sexual immorality so is the marriage between people of the same sex and we shall by no means bless such relationship as a marriage.”

“This proposal is nothing but a disgrace and a mockery to both our religion and our African cultures, we oppose and condemn it in all terms.”

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Both Al Jama-ah and the African Christian Democratic Party have also voiced their disapproval of the proposal.

Polygamist Erich Viedge said despite polygamy being legal in the country, there were still some citizens who cannot enter into marriages.

“I have two partners, one of which I’m not allowed to marry because the law says I have to register a traditional marriage of which I cannot as a white middle-aged man. This means some citizens are allowed privileges that some cannot access and these are some of the problems this green paper is trying to solve,” he said.

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“With polygamy, women have always been the ones who get the short end of the stick as they were not always protected under law if their marriages were not recognised. And now more than ever, women are expressing their sexual selves more as society becomes more equal.

People don’t need to keep (partners) hidden, they can introduce them to their existing partners, and as consenting adults, they can form relationships that suit them. This green paper means if either of them wishes to enter into marriages, they can do so freely. I’m currently living with both partners, but I’m not allowed to marry both of them.

“Polyandry does exist in this country, the reason we don’t see it as often as we see polygamy is because of stigma and toxic masculinity where men are threatened by there being more than one penis in the relationship.”

*Samantha, 42, who is polyamorous, says the stigma around females having more than one partner, particularly if they are both male, is still rife.

“I have been married to my husband for 10 years and we have two children together and have an open marriage where we are free to date other people,” she said.

“I have had two serious relationships in the past that may have led to marriage were the options open to us at the time, but it never got that far. Stigma is still a big thing in society around women openly dating more than one partner without being called nasty names.

“I don’t know if one day this proposal becomes law if I would want to walk down the aisle and take another husband but it is a step in the right direction.

Siphiwe Sithole says while a lot of stigma is attached to non-monogamous relationships, a shift in legislation would go a long way in helping to change mindsets, particularly in the black communities.

“I support the idea of legally recognising non-monogamous relationships and in this case the idea that women, in particular, can marry more than one husband, it is a step in the right direction and an indication of a transformative democracy,” he said.

“Polyamory certainly challenges a lot of norms and ideas we all grew up with, this doesn't however necessarily make it wrong. We however lack a platform and safe space as a nation to talk about these issues hence many people who practice non-monogamous relationships live in hiding. Particularly in fear of stigmatisation. This is dangerous and leads often to people resorting to cheating which has its perils particularly the risk of increasing sexually transmitted infections.

“Marriage is a construct rooted in patriarchy and this is slowly changing. I, as a black polyamorous person, is in full support of the green paper by the government to re-examine the entire institution of marriage. I believe it is a significant step in not only changing our mindset as a nation around marriage alone but also a great effort in trying to dismantle patriarchy.”

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