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article imagePolygamy becomes hot election issue in South Africa

By Adriana Stuijt     Apr 11, 2009 in Lifestyle
The widespread, hidden practice of polygamy among many black South African leaders was attacked headlong this week by the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, Reverend Kenneth Meshoe. A top black journalists says he's 'sanctimonious' however.
Polygamy is an abuse of women:
Meshoe - who attacked the practice of polygamy as 'abuse of women' -- has thus hurled himself head-long into a political minefield which no South African politicians have ever dared to tread before. He started attacking the widespread practice of polygamy in South Africa. during a controversial interview with a journalist of the authorative Cape Argus newspaper's Verashni Pillay.
The influential Sowetan newspaper, read by many millions of blacks, was the first to attack Rev Meshoe, accusing him of being 'influenced by foreign missionaries, sanctimonious and judgmental'.
"From the pulpit of electioneering," writes Sowetan's editor, "the sanctimonious Meshoe extolled that 'polygamy is an abuse of women because you will favour one wife over the other and you cannot satisfy them all. If you are married, you need to take care of that wife and love that wife, as I am doing with my wife.' Sowetan's editor was clearly furious, writing: "what informs the good pastor’s self-righteous view? Does he take his cue from the first missionaries to arrive on our shores?" see
Polygamy is widely practiced among black-African and islamic South Africans alike -- and every 'customary' marriage is recognised under a 1998 South African law as legal.
However, polygamy has rarely been spoken and written about publicly, especially in election years, and most certainly never by politicians. This changed after the election of Jacob Zuma as president of the ruling African National Congress party, who happily admits to all and sundry that he's a polygamist, and loving it.
When one travels in the 'traditional areas' outside the major cities, polygamy can be seen quite readily by the agriculture: the houses take on the traditional Zulu shape as soon as one leaves Durban, travelling inland. The compounds have a central circular house with smaller circular houses around it. These smaller houses are for the wives, as polygamy is strongly practiced, even among self-professed, practicing Zulu Christians.
Zuma once famously told a television interviewer: “There are plenty of politicians who have mistresses and children that they hide so as to pretend they're monogamous. I prefer to be open. I love my wives and I'm proud of my children.”
Eighteen children, four wives, several mistresses:
Jacob Zuma a Free Man
Jacob Zuma a Free Man
Christopher Szabo
He's recognised at least 18 children from four “official” wives and several girlfriends.
Who will be First Lady?
Political commentators are now raising this issue rather cauteously, asking 'who would be first lady' when he becomes president of the country...
It's also an important issue among the country's 11-million traditional Zulus, who have given him their unwavering support - while the previous president, Thabo Mbeki was so unpopular and distrusted that he often was physically barred with his presidential motorcade from holding meetings in KwaZulu-Natal. see
Proven virility essential quality in SA leaders:
The Times' Jonathan Clayton wrote recently about Zuma's victory over previous president Thabo Mbeki - who has had no offspring from his apparently monogamous marriage. "Sex, virility and loyalty are intimately linked to one of the most remarkable political comebacks in recent history,' wrote Clayton. They have helped Mr Zuma, a charismatic populist with impeccable liberation struggle credentials, to hone his image as an expansive African “Big Man” politician, champion of the poor and oppressed."
Zuma, who has no formal education, joined the ANC aged 17. Like former president Mbeki, he has also served it all his life, much of it in exile in Mozambique and Zambia. Many supporters in the townships see him as their saviour who, unlike the self-enriching Mbeki clan leader, will uplift them from their misery and poverty. They often refer to him openly as 'the black Jesus'. (see picture above of a demonstration at Jane Furse in Limpopo Province on March 21, 2009, showing a demonstrator's placard).[url= t=_blank]see
Indeed: in Mr Zuma's traditional constituencies of teeming black urban townships and poor rural areas, where much of the population still lives in grinding poverty 15 years after the end of apartheid, 'there was very little love for the scholarly Mbeki -- whose perceived lack of virility was such an important issue that he even placed the name of the only offspring he's known to having fathered, on his cv. His monogamous marriage to his present wife is childless.
Polygamy: South African Pandora's box
The African Christian Democratic Party, which has five MPs in parliament, has always been known for its ultra-conservative pro-Christian stance.
The ACDP is one of the smaller opposition parties in Parliament. And Meshoe, whose church congregation counts about 4,000 members, has managed to maintain a steady foothold for his seemingly niche party, writes Pillay. And his support among black Christians has also been growing steadily: the party grew from 0.45% of the national vote in 1994 to 1.43% in 1999 and 1.6% in 2004.
Against homosexuality, against abortion, but supports the death penalty:
Meshoe says he established the party to get Christians and Christian values into government, pointing out that Christian MPs in other parties had to toe the line and suppress their values. Yet the ACDP MP have also been targetted the most by fellow-MPs and the liberal news media in South Africa for their opposition to abortion and homosexuality.They are however also in favour of bringing back the death penalty to curb the country's violence-driven, extraordinarily high crime rate, in which some 90 people a day are officially listed as being killed in murders and culpible homicides by the police -- and one female is raped every 26 seconds...
The ACDP has been campaigning very persistently in this year's national elections on April 22 by hammering on just two issues: fighting crime and forming coalitions with other opposition parties to keep the ANC out of power. However his comments against polygamy have brought him the most notoriety in thus current election campaign thus far.
Eighty percent of South Africans call themselves Christian, according to a 2001 census: Zionist (black) Christian 11.1%, Pentecostal/Charismatic 8.2%, Catholic 7.1%, Methodist 6.8%, Dutch Reformed 6.7%, Anglican 3.8% and other Christian 36%.
However, African churches have long recognized polygamy. They stated in the 1988 Lambeth Conference, “It has long been recognized in the Anglican Communion that polygamy in parts of Africa, and traditional marriage, do genuinely have features of both faithfulness and righteousness.”
Other African leaders outside South Africa have no problems with combining their public lives with their polygamous marriages: Mwai Kibaki, the Christian president of Kenya, whose victory was attributed to ‘the hand of the Lord’ by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa, is polygamous. see
And post-apartheid South Africa has also legalized polygamy with a 1998 law. See: Click here to see News24's video interview with Kenneth Meshoe. see
Summary of Jacob Zuma's wives and lovers: (also see our previous article about Zuma here)
Zuma is still married to his first wife, Sizakele Khumalo, whom he met in 1959. The painfully shy “MaKhumalo” lives at his smart homestead in Nklanda, KwaZulu-Natal. He has no children with her, but has publicly praised her and she is favourite to be “first lady”
Number two - Ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - Foreign Affairs Minister - with whom he had 4 children - Msholozi, 24, Gugu, 22, Thuli, 21 and Thuthi, 19. They divorced in June 1998 due to "irreconcilable differences."
Number three - Late wife Kate Zuma - with whom he had 5 children - Saady, 29, twins Duduzile and Duduzane both 25, Phumzile, 20 and Vusi. She committed suicide on December 8, 2000 after apparent strained relations with Zuma.
Number four - Nompumelelo Mantuli Zuma - whom he married in January 2008. She has 2 children from him: Thandiswe, 7 and 8 month old Sinquobile.
Number five - Thobeka Stacey Mabhija - with whom he has two children, including a 5 month old baby.
Mrs Jacob Zuma number six? Bongi Ngema - from Umlazi, has a 7 month old son
Left at the altar
Zuma also paid half lobolo (dowry) for Swazi Princess Sebentile Dlamini, 38, the granddaughter of King Sobhuza III, in 2002 but nothing has come out of it.
The mistress: His old flame Minah Shongwe, sister of Judge Jeremiah Shongwe (who asked to be recused from Mr Zuma’s rape trial because of the liaison). She has a son, Edward, 30, with Mr Zuma.
The legal rights of these women and children could also be an issue: Jennifer Williams, the director of the Women's Legal Centre, was quoted as saying to the Mail & Guardian newspaper that polygamous wives also in a tricky legal and financial rights situation:
"If a husband has married once under 'customary tribal law' in South Africa, the later polygamous marriages may only be recognised in terms of the "Recognition of the Customary Marriages Act of 1998" -- if the husband brings an application to court for permission to marry again. These applications have to set out the property systems for each of his various wives.The idea is that the court then comes to the assistance of the women and children of the marriages in setting out how the marital property is to be distributed equitably." see
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