Infidelity or polygamy poser

Zinhle Mapumulo

Zinhle Mapumulo

Infidelity and polygamy are two different things, yet many men fail to draw the line between the two. Those who cheat on their wives defend the practice by saying that it is part of their African culture and they were raised that way.

Traditionalists are, however, worried about this distortion.

Abram Sithole, pictured, chief executive officer of the National House of Traditional Leaders, says he is concerned by the growing confusion between polygamy and infidelity in black communities.

"The two phrases are similar but mean different things in my belief. Infidelity is when a married man dates and sleeps with other women other than his wife. Polygamy, on the other hand, is when you marry a second or third wife with permission from your partner," he says.

Sithole is himself a product of polygamy. His father married three women and he was born from the third wife. His older brother is also a polygamist and he says he is a firm believer in the practice.

"Polygamy is part of African beliefs and not culture. The practice does not involve cheating. If a man feels that he needs a second wife he has to discuss it first with the woman in his life.

"If she agrees he then has to start looking for the potential wife and when he finds her, he needs to inform the first wife, who then gives her blessings. The new couple will not have sex before marriage," Sithole explains.

"It worries me when men use the African traditions as a shield for engaging in extramarital relationships. Infidelity is not part of our beliefs and it is different from polygamy.

"People must stop confusing the two, especially at a time when we are faced with the HIV-Aids pandemic," he says.

South Africa has the highest rate of HIV infections and deaths in the world. A recent study conducted by Soul City Institute on multiple partner relationships revealed that participants in 10 African countries believed that it was an accepted cultural and social norm for men to have more than one sexual partner.

Sithole criticises this belief.

He says: "This is the sort of behaviour that perpetuates the spread of HIV-Aids.

"Multiple partner relationships are the reason this country is leading in HIV infections. If people were living like our mothers and fathers did we would not be in this situation.

"We need to go back to our cultures, beliefs and traditions if we want to overcome the pandemic."