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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"I married four women to save money"

DURBAN - South African businessman Milton Mbele broke all the traditional rules of a polygamous wedding when he recently married four women on the same day.

The four brides dressed in flowing white gowns walked down the aisle together, before saying "We do" to the 44-year-old groom.

Mr Mbele says he didn't marry them purely for the spectacle but also because it made financial sense. "I don't know how much four different weddings would have cost me but I know doing it all at once saved money," he explains. "For example I only needed one tent, I needed to hire one caterer and one photographer for the entire ceremony. I began putting money aside for the event towards the end of 2007 and started collecting quotes for things like the tent and catering costs early last year."

He says he loves all his wives - Thobile Vilakazi, Zanele Langa, Baqinisile Mdlolo and Smangele Cele - equally and also treats them that way. Mr Mbele himself wears four rings on his finger - he says this is a sign of his commitment to all his wives. The wives say they were shocked by the news that Mr Mbele wanted to marry them at once but add that they agreed because they love him.

Some two weeks after their much publicised two-day ceremony, Mr Mbele says he is overwhelmed by all the attention his wedding has attracted.

Mr Mbele, a Zulu businessman and municipal manager, says polygamy is still very much part of Zulu tradition. "This is a proud part of our culture. It has been practiced for generations before us. My grandfather himself had three wives," he says, quickly adding that he isn't blindly following in his grandfather's footsteps.

"I prefer polygamy to having many girlfriends which is what some married men do," he says. "If I love more than one woman, I would rather make it known to the other women in my life and make it official. If I feel like taking another wife this is something that will be in the open and my wives would know," he says.

President Jacob Zuma, also a Zulu, has three wives.

But the practice has been met with criticism. Some point out that it does not afford equal rights to men and women. Women are not allowed to wed more than one husband, while a man can have as many wives as he wishes. In a polygamous marriage only the first wife is legally recognised, which could pose some difficulties in dividing the husband's estate when he dies.

South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive people in the world - some five million.

There are seven days in a week and I have four wives. I will take turns visiting them and use the remaining three days to rest. - Milton Mbele


Since having more than one sexual partner increases the chances of contracting the virus, it is understandable that Smangele's family had reservations about her entering into a polygamous marriage. "My family was not pleased at first but they came around eventually," she says.

They are taking the necessary precautions, which include regular HIV tests.

"I had my last test a few months ago when I was pregnant... We are all disciplined about staying healthy," she says.

The arrangements seem to have been carefully thought out down to the last detail, including how Mr Mbele will alternate between his four wives, who all live in different parts of northern KwaZulu-Natal province. "There are seven days in a week and I have four wives. I will take turns visiting them and use the remaining three days to rest," he says.

When asked how she feels about Mr Mbele's visitation plan Simangele quickly responds: "I believe it will work. I am used to living on my own and having him visit me on certain days so this won't be anything new to us," she says, reaching for her husband's hand.

In fact, Mr Mbele has already been in relationships with his new wives for several years. He has three children with "first wife" Thobile, two with "wife-number-two" Zanele, one child with Baqinisile, referred to as "wife-number-three" and two children with "youngest wife" Smangele.

He also has three children from a previous relationship.

Mr Mbele is the breadwinner in all his homes - none of his wives are employed. They say they are happy to be provided for by their husband. He owns 100 cows and 250 goats and has a good job, so he is relatively wealthy, at least by traditional standards.

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