Does our Constitution protect polygamy? I don’t think so.

I agree with columnist Justice Malala that polygamy is a selfish and predatory practice – but is it, as it now seems widely believed, a constitutionally protected practice?

I am not a constitutional expert, but I can read, and I can’t find any reference at all to polygamy in the constitution. What the constitution does is to protect cultural practices that do not clash with other protected rights in the Bill of Rights (see Section 30). In other words, you may live according to your culture, as long as you do not trample on the rights of others.

Polygamy was legalised by the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998. But the mere fact that the practice of polygamy (and polyandry) is given legal status by statute does not mean that it is constitutionally acceptable. No aspect of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act has , as far as I can ascertain, been challenged in the Constitutional Court. In my view, a strong case could be made the polygamy constitutes unfair discrimination on the basis of gender (especially in forms which grant different hierarchical status to wives).

Perhaps a constitutional expert out there would care to comment?


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