July 14, 2009 / 1:53 PM / 9 years ago

Polygamy in Angola isn't legal, but it is common

LUANDA (Reuters Life!) - After almost three decades of civil war that ended in 2002, there weren’t many men to go around in Angola at first. So it was common, also for cultural reasons, for men to have several women.

Although Angolan law condemns polygamy, or multiple marriages, the practice is widespread in a country with a large share of female-headed households and where woman are often left alone to care for their children.

So, Family Minister Genoveva Lino proposed a radical step: you can have multiple wives as long as you can afford it.

“If a man wants to have more than one woman then he must at least prove he has the physical, emotional, psychological and financial capacity to sustain his multiple relationships,” Lino said on Tuesday.

“Otherwise, he will have children with one wife, forget about them, and move on to a second woman. It’s a complete mess.”

In January, a small Angolan party announced it would ask parliament to vote on the legalisation of polygamy.

Several female members of parliament rejected the move as a step backwards for Angolan society and the proposal by the New Democracy party was scrapped. Six months later, the debate on polygamy still rages on.

The election of South Africa’s newly elected President Jacob Zuma, a polygamist who has three wives and 19 children, may have helped.

Supporters of polygamy claim it is already widespread in Angola and legalising would only make common practice official. One of Angola’s greatest musical hits, “The Other,” is about a woman who says she is happy to remain a mistress.

“This is already a reality in our country. I think we should make this tradition official,” said David Matos, the head of the New Democracy Party and father of the proposal to legalise polygamy in Angola.

In urban settings like the capital Luanda, men often boast about having several “non-official” wives, while the local village chief, or Soba, in the countryside is allowed to marry and provide for a handful of women.

Fatima Viegas, director of the National Institute for Religion in Luanda, said that although no official figures on the practice of polygamy were available, it was fairly common in Angola for one man to have several different women.

Females still make up 50.7 percent of Angola’s population, according to a report on state-owned news agency Angop.

“We can say that a non-institutionalised form of polygamy exists in Angola,” Viegas told Reuters.

“The question is whether it makes sense to make it legal.”

Others claim legalising the practice would not change much.

“Who will guarantee that even with two or three (legal) wives, a man will not show up with other women?” asked Lucia Tomas, who is vice-president of the network of Women Parliamentarians in Angola.

“And how about the other side of polygamy — polyandry — would our colleagues and men support this practice as well?”

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