While South Africa’s marriage laws could in the near future allow women to marry more than one husband (polyandry), just as polygamous men can have many wives, there is still uncertainty surrounding the concept.
Legalisation of polyandry is one of the wide-ranging proposals in the Green Paper on Marriages. The country’s Department of Home Affairs published the landmark 67-page policy document this week.
The department stressed in the document that it sought to create a new marriage act that will allow all in the country to have recognised, legal marriages.
A few types of marriages in the country are not recognised; and on the other hand, marriage legislation is deemed to not promote equality.
Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Rastafarian marriages are not recognised by South African law and the Green Paper also puts up proposals for their recognition.
“Moreover, activists submitted that equality demands that polyandry be legally recognised as a form of marriage,” said the document.
Polyandry and polygamy emerged as some of controversial topics during the ministerial dialogues.
Traditional leaders were among those who objected to polyandry and labelled it an “unacceptable practice because it is not of African origin”, revealed the document.
“Ironically, stakeholders who believed in the practice of polygamy (polygyny) were opposed to the practice of polyandry,” commented the department.
The public has until the end of June to comment on the department’s proposals.
Home Affairs said it was aware its process was bound to ruffle feathers, but maintained the changes were necessary.
“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.”