South Africa: King Zwelithini causes more controversy

Date: May 7, 2015
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King Goodwill Zwelithini, after being accused of inciting the recent xenophobic violence that spread across the country, has caused another furore. Gender activists have lambasted the King after he suggested that the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act be amended, because it supposedly disempowers polygamist men. He made this statement last week at the opening ceremony of the House of Traditional Leaders in Ulundi.

The spokesperson for the Commission for Gender Equality, Javu Baloyi, said the Act should not be interfered with because it protects married women. Independent women’s rights expert Kubi Rama, who is the former deputy CEO of Gender Links, described polygamy as a practice that was unfair to women. “To call for an amendment to remove the requirement for men to have to get consent from their wives, erodes any power women have in the situation.”

According to the 2014 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer, in many African countries the great majority of the people conduct their personal activities in accordance with and subject to customary law, which has a great impact on matters such as marriage, inheritance and traditional authority. Furthermore, because customary laws were developed in an era dominated by patriarchy, some of its norms conflict with human rights that guarantee equality between men and women. Customary laws remain a big obstacle for women to attain and enjoy equal rights as the different ethnic groups still have laws, values and practices that treat women as subordinate and promote discrimination against women and girls. Thus it is crucial that governments ensure that customary laws are not in conflict with constitutional laws.

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