More 'empowering' to be a second wife

Jacob Zuma the South African President had a party at his hometown in Nkandla celebrating his victory as the South African President. Jacob Zuma's wives sharing a light moment from left is Nompumelelo Ntuli, Sizake MaKhumalo Zuma and Thobeka Madiba (formerly Mabhija). Picture Credit: Simphiwe Nkwali. © Sunday Times
Jacob Zuma the South African President had a party at his hometown in Nkandla celebrating his victory as the South African President. Jacob Zuma's wives sharing a light moment from left is Nompumelelo Ntuli, Sizake MaKhumalo Zuma and Thobeka Madiba (formerly Mabhija). Picture Credit: Simphiwe Nkwali. © Sunday Times

Winnie Nxumalo, 50, a first wife of two, maintains that polygamy requires true love and compromise. At first, when her husband asked for her permission to take a second wife she was shocked, felt betrayed and uncertain of his love for her.

"Out of love for my husband I welcomed the second wife. It was tradition that when she came into the family she stayed at my homestead as the first wife so that we may bond."

She said they became good friends, the second wife's children became hers, that they had respect for each other and did not compete for their husband's attention and love.

"As the elder wife, I arranged her lobola negotiations and wedding ceremony. She stayed with me until after her wedding."

Cynthia, 28, a B-Tech management services graduate, does not mind being the second wife to her 50-year-old husband.

"My husband treats me way better than guys my age have ever treated me and supports my dreams. I love him. He is my best friend. He was there for me when I was studying, and mentored me when I started my own business.

"He has a family. I knew the first wife while we were dating."

She said before they married she went to family gatherings which her husband's first wife attended, "but she has not warmed up to the idea of all three of us".

Her husband pays for her apartment and both wives get to spend an equal amount of individual time with him in the week.

Cynthia said when their husband travelled overseas each wife got a turn to travel with him.

They also divide up up travelling with him on his local trips.

According to three husbands, 53-year-old BZ Mbatha, who has three wives, 55-year-old Caiphus Xaba, who has three wives, and 56-year-old Dalton Dlamini, who has two wives, polygamy is an important traditional practice, especially in carrying forth their family names.

"A man can marry again if his first wife is barren, only has girls for children or cannot birth an heir for her husband," said Xaba.

Dlamini said there were cases where the first wife does not get along with her in-laws and, as a result, he would then marry again to bring peace.

"If a man's brother is late [dead] and did not have children, he is then compelled to marry his late brother's woman and take her as his own, but only if he already has a wife.

"At times, the family's ancestral spirits demand that there be a new homestead to carry on the name of the clan and a male in the family will be chosen to carry out this duty," Mbatha said.

But it's not always deep and ritualistic; sometimes he just loves another woman and wants her to join the family.

Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission chairwoman Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the general acceptance of polygamy by young people was part of the new revolution to embrace and redefine the concept of what harmful traditional practice is and is not.

"Young people, who are educated and empowered economically, are starting to make choices that suit them culturally and otherwise. It is more legally and economically empowering to be in a polygamous marriage than to be a mistress."

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