Enlightened women and polygamy: Voices and perspectives from within

  • Zamambo Mkhize
  • Nompumelelo B. Zondi
Keywords: Polygyny, polygamy, ilobolo, tradition, culture, patriarchy, gender, power, social phenomenon


Within the prevalent patriarchal system, polygamy and ilobolo are deeply-rooted practices that still endure and are considered vital within African cultures. The customs, however, have gender and power implication at times, where polygamy causes anguish for women when men consider them ‘paid for’ or ‘bought commodities’, not deserving to be treated with respect. Traditional men have championed polygamy in terms of ‘tradition and culture’ but a cursory observation suggests that it is currently also being embraced by women who seem to marry into these unions freely. By extension, it would seem that some first wives do not find it a problem when their husbands inform them of their intention to take second and subsequent wives. Even in arranged marriages certain women seem content to enter into a polygamous union because they will be answering the call of duty (Mkhize, 2011). This article reports on a study that was conducted at a semi-urban township of Hammarsdale in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa between 2009 and 2011 using qualitative research methodology. The aim of the study was to explore why middle-class educated and employed women enter or even stay in these matrimonial arrangements. The study differed from any previous studies in that it focused on financially independent women; a crucial point which eliminated one of the main assumptions that women enter into such unions for financial and or material gain and/or support. Moreover previous studies had focused on rural women who were mainly housewives entirely dependent on their husbands for their livelihoods. The findings of the study revealed that women entered such unions for numerous reasons, amongst them, love, family, societal pressures as well as desperation to have a higher social standing in the community than being a single woman. It is concluded that most of these women were influenced by society into being married regardless of the type of marriage they wanted.

Keywords: Polygyny, polygamy, ilobolo, tradition, culture, patriarchy, gender, power, social phenomenon


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eISSN: 1683-0296