Skip to content
Deacon Keith Fournier Hi reader, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Big Love, Small Houses: Polygamy on the Rise in Zimbabwe's Cities

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

By Gamuchirai Masiyiwa (Global Press Journal)
7/5/2018 (11 months ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

Polygamy has long been practiced in Zimbabwe's rural areas, but it's becoming more common in urban areas, too. In this story, women and men in polygamous marriages speak about the dynamics of this evolving practice.

Credit: Illustration by Zoe van Dijk

Credit: Illustration by Zoe van Dijk

Highlights

By Gamuchirai Masiyiwa (Global Press Journal)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
7/5/2018 (11 months ago)

Published in Africa

Keywords: Zimbabwe, polygamy


HARARE, ZIMBABWE - Cash and food were among the many gifts given to Princess Nyandoro's family at her marriage ceremony in 2014. Under Zimbabwe's Customary Marriages Act, a union is only valid when a husband provides the bride's family with gifts. But some friends and relatives question the validity of Nyandoro's four-year marriage, calling her a "small house," a local term used to refer to a second wife or to a longtime partner outside of a civil or customary marriage.

The 26-year-old became a wife to her boyfriend in what she describes as an atypical traditional wedding -- from location to guest list, the event was shrouded in secrecy, a common trait in small-house relationships.

"I decided to take that path because I was desperate," says Nyandoro, whose willful decision to be a second wife has brought her stigma. When she met her husband, he'd been married for 20 years. He's still married to his first wife, commonly known as a "big house," but Nyandoro says she's happy that he provides for her needs.

In Zimbabwe, civil law and customary law exist side-by-side. Civil law prohibits polygamy, once a common practice, in marriages that are registered with the state, while the customary law does recognize polygamous marriages. But men or women must choose one; if a person enters a monogamous marriage under civil law, that person cannot later enter into a polygamous marriage under customary law. Women such as Nyandoro choose to become second wives for different reasons: some for love, some for financial stability, and some for a combination of the two.

According to a 2016 study published in the Open Science Journal, small-house unions are becoming increasingly common in the country's urban centers, including Harare, the capital. But Leonard Makoni, a marriage counselor, says this emerging type of union is not too different from what has been practiced across Zimbabwe for many years.

It's usually acceptable for a man to have more than one wife at the same time, he says, on the condition that "lobola," a bride price, is paid to the woman's family.

In many cases, the wives knew of each other and lived together with their husbands, says Prince Sibanda, a traditional healer and cultural expert.

"If a man had another wife, the first wife was told way before the man went to marry another wife," he says. It's less common to see multiple spouses interacting or living together now.

Very few of Nyandoro's friends knew of her marriage -- and her husband's first wife also did not know. Nyandoro says her long search for love and financial stability in cash-strapped Zimbabwe is what landed her in the arms of a married man.

Over the years, people around them have found out about the marriage. The first wife demanded that her husband and Nyandoro live apart.

Civil law prohibits polygamy, once a common practice, in marriages that are registered with the state, while the customary law does recognize polygamous marriages.

Distance has not gotten in the way of her husband's duties, Nyandoro says. He has built her and their 3-year-old daughter a house, bought her a car, and provides her with an allowance for day-to-day living.

Zimbabwe's Constitution outlaws discrimination against children born out of wedlock. But there are children from small-house relationships who are unable to inherit family property, because they do not have their fathers' last names. Nyandoro says she is lucky that her daughter is not one of them, because the daughter has her father's last name.

But there's a price to pay for these benefits. Sometimes, Nyandoro feels lonely.

"It's not easy being a small house," she says. "I have been ridiculed. At some point, my family disowned me because of the decision I had made." She has not met most of her partner's relatives, either. They believe the marriage is illicit, despite a 1997 customary act that allows such unions and that provides terms for their annulments.

This marriage of modern and cultural ideologies also comes at a cost for big houses. The first wives may experience emotional trauma, depression and loss of self-confidence as a result of the second wives, Makoni says.

In 2009, Alima got married to her boyfriend of three years. Shortly after, she was tipped off by a friend that her husband had another wife.

"When I confronted the lady, asking if she knew he was married, she said she did not know and was breaking up with him -- but a few months down the line they were staying together," says the 34-year-old, who asked that only her first name be used for fear of stigma. Alima says she became suicidal.

Not all small-house relationships comply with customary law. Some married men have long-term relationships outside of their official marriages without performing the traditional ceremony to validate the partnership.

Though married, Nyakudya, who requested that only his last name be published for fear of stigma, says he's now in love with someone else. He keeps the relationship secret.

"The woman who is now my small house was my first girlfriend, who later married someone else after we parted ways," he says. "We then met years later, after she divorced her husband, and we are now together again."

Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.

Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, Reporter | Eunice Onwona, | Mira Galanova, | Michael Bluhm, | Zoe van Dijk, | Austin Bachand, | Katie Myrick
A version of this story originally appeared on Global Press Journal.


Comments


More Africa

Rwandan troops block pilgrims from attending Ugandan martyr celebration Watch

Image of

Some 200 Rwandans were blocked by national troops from crossing the border with Uganda to attend a pilgrimage in the neighboring country on ... continue reading


In war-torn South Sudan, two Spanish priests build a shrine to Our Lady of the Rosary Watch

Image of

Ave Maria, the parish church outside Mupoi, South Sudan, fell into disrepair decades ago. It was abandoned at the beginning of Sudan's ... continue reading



South African bishops: New president must tackle corruption, poverty Watch

Image of

In the wake of President Cyril Ramaphosa's successful reelection bid last week, South Africa's Catholic bishops are applauding the ... continue reading


To promote peace, Ghana's chief Muslim cleric goes to Mass Watch

Image of

As part of his efforts to increase interreligious peace, Ghana's chief imam attended Easter Mass ahead of his 100th birthday celebration. ... continue reading


Death toll in DRC Ebola outbreak reaches 1,000 Watch

Image of

The Ebola outbreak that began last August in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has now claimed more than 1,000 lives, the nation's ... continue reading


Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.