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Fear of AIDS Makes Some Men Reconsider Polygamy in Zimbabwe


In Zimbabwe, some men from the Tonga ethnic group say economic hardship and the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic have prompted them to re-think the benefits of polygamy. The practice is widespread in their community and supported by their culture. However, several younger men say they intend to continue with the practice. Local women, who're most effected, have little (if any) input in ongoing discussions.

Among Tonga men, the practice of polygamy is widespread. Dr Nkululeko Sibanda lives in Siakanenge village in Binga. He says before the Kariba Dam was built, polygamy provided his fishing- and farming ancestors with a much-needed labour force.

Now, however, he says Tonga culture has been "corrupted"… by locals tying the knot with members of other cultural groups. Dr Sibanda argues this has robbed polygamy of its initial "appeal" and benefits. He adds prevailing economic hardships have added to the growing unpopularity of the practice.

The physician's view is shared by Julius Sianchali, from Mankobole village. Sianchali says while he has only one wife, he's often considered marrying a second. But several factors have stopped him from doing so…

"These days it's not easy to be polygamous.,” he said. “ I see a lot of people who are failing to look after their families properly because of the hardships. There is also the issue of HIV/AIDS. So I think it's best to stop this practice because really there isn't much joy in polygamous families."

Thompson Mdimba is a retired hotel worker. At one time he had three wives, but one has died. Mdimba says when he married, he was able to care for many wives…

"I had three wives because I used to work and life was easy. I could provide for a big family. I used to work at Mlibizi Hotel so at month end I could afford to buy everything for my family so other women would envy that and want me to marry them too," he said.

Now, says Mdimba, life has taken a turn for the worse. He says he'd advise his sons not to marry more than once.

But fisherman Kaison Ngwenya disagrees. The 25-year-old says he already has two wives…

"We are used to having more than one wife. It's our culture,” he said.

“ Of course it's not easy but we are used to it. Even the women accept polygamy and don't make too many demands. They just want soap and food they don't ask for much."

Ngwenya's views are supported by Tyros Sabwao from Mangani. The retired miner has three wives, and 17 children. Sabwao says he married three women to ensure his homestead and livestock are well looked after… while he's away at work, at Acturus Mine.

Sabwao's first wife, Saliya, says there wasn't much she could say (or do) when her husband told her he wanted to marry again…

"Even if it hurts you there is nothing you can do but that's how men are here. My grandfather and father were polygamists they had 4 or five wives each. I found the practice there so I can't say no to it," she said.

Saliya says she gets along with her co-wives. She adds they seldom quarrel, because each wife has her own kitchen and bedroom. She says despite the economic hardships, her husband is still providing for her well.