Spotlight on polygammy in the modern day

’MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU –Like thousands of other African girls who were forced into loveless marriages for different reasons ’Mantsieng Nkhahle, then aged 16, married her husband as a naïve teenager whose parents were keen to make a fortune from the man’s wealthy family which was ready pay a lucrative sum of lobola.

Nkhahle now 50, recalls how strangers from a neighbouring village abducted her from her own village and took her to a strange home where she was forced to become the wife of a man she neither knew nor loved. “That was the way men took wives in those days. My husband’s family was successful and they could afford to pay good money for my hand in marriage but the only problem was I was never given a chance to make a choice. I was marrying someone I did not know or love; it was an arranged marriage based on material gain,” she says.

Polygamy is practiced in most African countries and some women choose to be part of that set-up because their cultures see it as a normal practice that has been approved by the elders and practiced for centuries. But others get caught up unwillingly in the traditional practice that is now unacceptable in most Christian communities and the modern world at large.

Nkhahle only discovered later on that she was not her husband’s only wife, but was actually wife number three. “As a young girl I had always dreamed of being a young bride who would be swept off her feet by her young loving husband. I never thought I would find myself in a position where I would have to compete for a husband’s attention with two other older wives. But that was the fate my parents married me into and questioning the elders was never an option as it was regarded as being insolent,” she recalls.

She adds: “I tried talking myself out of the marriage but my family could not have any of that. Instead, everybody convinced me that I would be fine with time and that I would learn to love my husband as well as appreciate the polygamous arrangement. “Things turned out exactly the way I had feared. I was stuck in a loveless and abusive marriage to a stranger who did not care about my feelings. Because I was younger, the two older wives teamed up against me, their jealousy and scorn rubbed off on their children, turning my life into a real nightmare,” she remembers.

One of the first things she learnt as soon as she got married was that a man is not second-guessed, neither should his movements be questioned. The loveless, polygamous marriage shattered Nkhahle’s dreams of becoming a teacher, forcing her instead to be a full-time housewife to an abusive husband who was never at home to properly be the father to their two daughters and son.

Her life as well as the children’s were persistently endangered and things took a turn for the worst when her husband suddenly died leaving behind three bitter wives and nine children. “Discord became the order of the day with no father figure to put everyone to order. When the time came to make decisions about inheritance issues, everybody was at each other’s throat.

“Fights among the children degenerated into fist fights and when I realised that my children’s lives were really compromised, I decided to leave the family and all its drama behind to settle elsewhere. “I left empty-handed and took my children to start all over again because it was no longer safe to be in such a setting,” Nkhahle recalls. According to her, there is nothing wrong with polygamy as long as ones chooses to be part of it.

In Lesotho, polygamy is legal provided a man marries under customary law but he cannot take a second wife if he marries the first wife under civil law. Children born under customary law still enjoy the same benefits such as child cusody and inheritance as is the case under civil law marriages. A Food and Agricultural (FAO) report on gender and land rights shows that under customary law, the heir in a polygamous marriage is the firstborn male child of the first married wife.

It further shows that if there is no male child in the first house, the firstborn male child of the next married wife shall be the heir, but each house inherits property acquired and used by that household during the lifetime of the head of the family. “When the head of the family dies, the heir inherits all the immovable property in that household, including fields and buildings.

“The heir is required to use the property to take care of all the minors and needy members of the extended family and to discharge other family obligations such as burying the dead and negotiating and paying lobola for all male children in that family. He is also expected to share the inheritance with his younger brothers.

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