South Africa considers letting women have multiple husbands, sparking outrage

The South African government is considering allowing women to be married to multiple husbands, a prospect that is intended to promote gender equality and make marriage more inclusive.

The proposed legalization of polyandry was included in a green paper from South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs and has been met with a public outroar and widespread controversial debate.

The document argues that the marriage of men to multiple women is permitted, so the inverse ought to also be legal.

“If men are permitted to have more than one wife under customary law, then equality demands that polyandry be recognised so as to be consistent in the application of the equality principle,” says the document.

The green paper asserts that South Africa’s marriage system faces institutional problems, saying that the nation “inherited a marriage regime that was based on the Calvinist Christian and Western traditions.”

The document maintains that, in order to be more inclusive and equitable, South Africa’s system of marriage must move beyond its Western traditions to place equal value on all forms and varieties of marriage.

The problem statement argues that South African marriage policy ought to be more inclusive of different cultural practices, sexual orientations, and religious traditions- suggesting multiple proposals for how this could be done. The most contentious and controversial of these proposals has been the prospect of polyandry.

The document suggested that “South Africa could do away with categorizing marriages along lines of race, sexual orientation, religion and culture”, making institutions gender-neutral and thus legalizing all forms of polygamous relationships in the process.

One prominent face of public opposition to polyandry, Musa Mseleku, posted a YouTube video in May entitled “Polyandry will never work, it will bring more harm than good, many families are going to destroyed.”

While traditionalists have expressed outrage over the proposal of polyandry, deeming it an attack on traditional values, South Africa’s constitution is incredibly liberal and one of the most progressive in the world.

“I think this is a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, it will not bring stability in the home,” said Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party. “It is not practical. It is not workable,” he also said.

Meshoe also argued that polygamy has been more traditionally accepted because “men are jealous and possessive.”

The green paper explained that extensive research was conducted and human rights proponents were consulted before the proposal was published. The South African government has opened the document for public comments and suggestions until June 30.

Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.

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