In the near future women in South Africa will soon be allowed to marry more than one husband, in the same way, that polygamous men are allowed to marry more than one wife. This is according to the country’s Department of Home Affairs, which is looking at creating a new marriage act.
The new marriage act will recognise a range of types of marriages that are not legally recognised at the moment. According to the Green Paper on Marriages, a policy document published this week, the current marriage act does not promote equality.
The policy document highlighted that the current marriage legislation is discriminatory as it does not recognise Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Rastafarian marriages.
The policy document also called for polyandry to be legally recognised as a form of marriage.
Polyandry is a form of polygamy in which a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is contrasted with polygyny, which involves one man taking two or more wives.
The Green Paper proposed three new marriage regimes to bring equality in marriage laws. One of these options is a gender-neutral marriage regime.
South Africa’s Ministry of Home Affairs appears to favour the option for a gender-neutral marriage regime that allows both polyandry and polygyny. The Ministry wrote:
“The political appetite of the country to confront the challenges of the current marriage statute will be tested through these options. However, if Section 9 of the Constitution was to be implemented in its entirety, option 3 will tick all the boxes.”
However, the option for polyandry seems to have ruffled feathers and South Africa’s traditional leaders have vociferously opposed the proposal. According to the traditional leaders, a woman being married to more than one husband is an “unacceptable practise because it is not of African origin.”
To which the Ministry commented saying: “Ironically, stakeholders who believed in the practice of polygamy … were opposed to the practice of polyandry.”
The ministry said that though the new proposals may seem radical and will not be welcomed by everyone, it is necessary for the country to make the changes.
“This is the beginning of a crucial public discourse that will re-define the concept of marriage in South Africa,” it said.
“The process will unearth issues that may make some of us uncomfortable, but will encourage dialogue within the South African and international communities.”
South Africans have until the end of June to comment on the department’s proposals.