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Fri Apr 27, 2012, 05:01 PM

Swimming against the tide - President Jacob Zuma happily bucks the trend towards monogamy

ONE of the six wives of Goodwill Zwelithini, the present king of the Zulus, dispensed some expert advice for President Jacob Zuma’s sixth wife and fourth concurrent spouse. “What you did to get married, you’ll need to redo from scratch,” she warned Gloria Bongi Ngema at her traditional wedding to South Africa’s 70-year-old head of state on April 21st. “When you get to Zuma’s homestead, feed him and don’t talk too much. When he gets home he needs to rest.” She was advised also to pray for her husband’s finances, health, wives and libido.


Under the rule of Mr Zuma’s African National Congress, women have indeed done rather well in the public arena. In the World Economic Forum’s latest World Gender Gap report, South Africa is ranked a remarkable 14th out of 135 countries, with only Lesotho among African countries reckoned more women-friendly. Women account for 42% of MPs and hold 14 of the 34 posts in South Africa’s cabinet, including foreign affairs, defence and home affairs, which is held by a former wife of the president, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The main opposition party is led by a woman. In business, women have 28% of jobs in senior management, compared with 24% in Europe and 18% in North America. More than half of university undergraduates and almost the same proportion of academic staff are female.

South Africa is one of 28 African states to have ratified the African Union’s protocol on women’s rights in 2003, calling among other things for the “elimination of harmful practices”, polygamy among them. Though still permissible under South African law, it is nowadays frowned on. In a 2005 survey on marriage, 87% of South Africans favoured lifelong monogamy, whereas 25% of black men and 15% of white ones preferred polygamy. Women of all colours were a lot less keen. By 2003 fewer than 4% were in polygamous relationships, a number that is likely to slip further, whatever the president’s example.


"Under the rule of Mr Zuma’s African National Congress," should be "Under the rule of the African National Congress". But, there has been growing gender equality similar to the UK in South Africa for a while.

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