Men can’t manage polygamy

BODY LANGUAGE

Karabo Moroka is going to take a second husband on the popular soapie Generations and, because sometimes life imitates art, society is losing its collective mind because, again, “feminism has taken things too far”.

There have been a number of arguments for the role of polygamy in tradition, but none remains as strong as the core one: “It’s our culture.”

Much as we must pay homage to culture, we need to remember it is based on the needs of society and these are not static. We must analyse whether the reasons for having a particular tradition still hold true.

A number of traditions have fallen by the wayside over the years and polygamy may be one we must analyse.


One can see why the reasons for this practice no longer apply. But if they do apply, then they can be extended, like equal pay and paternal leave, to both sexes.

Often the reasons for polygamy are based in the economic, political and social realms. First, the economy is not what it used to be: being rand-locked has become a real thing. The price of everything (but fuel) has risen and there is barely enough money going around for people to run one household, let alone two, three or four. Having one household is not a cultural or moral issue – it is just good business sense.

Furthermore, what tends to happen in a polygamous relationship is that one household suffers at the expense of another. When one household starts living the “good life” (cars, expensive schools, holidays etcetera) funds are diverted from another household.

The man benefits regardless of which wife has these “perks”, but it is often not an equal arrangement for the women (and children) involved.

One argument for polygamy that stems from precolonial times is that of empire-building. A full house was a powerful house and children were seen as a source of wealth. But today, with the price of higher education and the number of children-turned-adults who live with their parents for extended periods of time, suddenly this does not seem like quite the right investment.

With the rise of absentee fathers in our society, one must question whether men can really be entrusted with the responsibility of children in multiple households when some can barely manage being a father in one. A great number of households already suffer from a chronic case of absentee fathers and “men-missing-till-midnight” syndrome, and a disproportionate number of households are run by single mothers.

The strange thing is that these very men, who are already negligent of their parental responsibilities, are the most vocal about wanting multiple households.

Other previously cited reasons for polygamy hold equally little weight. They include:

  • Birth control for women: The pill, female condoms and some of the comments made by men on social media are effective methods of contraception on their own.
  • Male sexual gratification: Women are no longer passive participants in sex, with statistics showing that a good chunk of heterosexual women have never had an orgasm. And with the rise of information on sex and pleasure, they want one. Handle one woman first, then we can talk about getting you another.
  • Political alliances: Despite what the State of the Nation address showed us, there is still a political structure (of sorts) in the country formed by parties, which one can join. They will handle the alliances on your behalf.
  • Agricultural manpower: Children helped farm the earth for food, but attempt to visit your local supermarket with more than two of your offspring and you will see the reasons to rally against a large family unit.

With the reasons for polygamy changing with society, why can we not extend the “privilege” to women as well? If men can run more than one household then, in the spirit of gender equality, should the same courtesy not be extended to women?

Give the average woman an Excel spreadsheet, a car with fuel, a planner app and some stretching exercises to keep limber and watch her show you what running more than one household is about.

There are many men who do not understand the emotional, financial and social responsibilities that come with polygamy. On the other hand, there are a number of women who have the financial, emotional and logistical capabilities to run two households or more.

We need to analyse polygamy outside of it simply being “our culture”, because culture is based in practicality. And if there is a practical reason, then what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Kagure Mugo is the cofounder and curator of the HOLAAfrica! blog

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Kagure Mugo
Kagure Mugo

Kagure Mugo is the intoxicatingly scary gatekeeper of HOLAAfrica, an online pan-African queer womanist community dealing with sexuality and all things woman. She is also a writer and freelance journalist who tackles sex, politics and other less interesting topics. During weekends she is a wine bar philosopher and polymath for no pay.

Related stories

Is investing for good reaching its tipping point?

With sustainable investments increasingly outperforming traditional options, millennials – the recipients of the greatest wealth transfer in history – are queuing up to get on board

eSwatini says fake polygamy story ‘insult’ to king and country

The story, carried by the Zambian Observer said that Swazi men would have to marry several wives starting from June

‘St Agnes’ murder series promises more than red herrings

Set in the bubble of Midlands privilege, the series promises depth and cliffhanging twists

Primetime: The script needs change

South African soapies, as representations of its audience’s desires, fail to take their stories seriously

5 reasons why Game of Thrones satisfies our needs (apart from sex and violence)

The series meets deeper, more fundamental human needs than just a romp through bedrooms and battlefields

SABC’s censorship of news recalls the days of apartheid

Controlling what TV viewers may see is not in the best interests of the South African public nor the rest of Southern Africa, argues Bheki Makhubu.
Advertising

Subscribers only

FNB dragged into bribery claims

Allegations of bribery against the bank’s chief executive, Jacques Celliers, thrown up in a separate court case

Dozens of birds and bats perish in extreme heat in...

In a single day, temperatures in northern KwaZulu-Natal climbed to a lethal 45°C, causing a mass die-off of birds and bats

More top stories

North West premier goes off the rails

Supra Mahumapelo ally Job Mokgoro’s defiance of party orders exposes further rifts in the ANC

Construction sites are a ‘death trap’

Four children died at Pretoria sites in just two weeks, but companies deny they’re to blame

Why the Big Fish escape the justice net

The small fish get caught. Jails are used to control the poor and disorderly and deflect attention from the crimes of the rich and powerful.

Koko claims bias before Zondo commission

In a lawyer’s letter, the former Eskom chief executive says the commission is not being fair to him
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…