By Lynette Kozosi
Customary marriages are not recognised under current Namibian law, although they enjoy recognition for specific purposes.
Because the law does not recognise customary marriages, many people feel reform on this aspect of family law is needed.
Many people combine civil and customary aspects of marriage, and therefore the current law negatively affects some people.
Traditionally, polygamous relationships have been practised due to many factors.
In terms of some African custom, for example, a man would have more than one wife if the first wife was unable to give birth due to old age.
Then the first wife would discuss this together with her husband and recommend a second wife, who would sometimes also happen to be the wife’s sister, and that was done mainly for economic reasons.
The first wife would still have the first say in the running of the household and decisions would be made at her house, while the second wife would always comply with the wishes of the first wife.
“I personally don’t think that there is anything wrong with polygamy or customary marriage if this is the person’s own choice. But it is an economic burden to maintain two wives and children from both marriages,” said a source requesting anonymity.
According to the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, Marlene Mungunda, polygamy in itself is not a widely practised custom in Namibia except in royal houses.
“This is an African continent and customary marriage is the way of the African people, so there is no way that the Government can shy away from this issue,” she says.
She says that customary marriage is not legally recognised yet, but it is in the pipeline, on the request of the people.
“I personally don’t condemn customary marriage, as long as the rights of women are catered for.
“Women are sometimes treated like objects but they can make their own choices,” she says.
Father Bernard Hall of the Holy Redeemer Parish in Katutura, says “the scripture teaches us that God made a man and a woman, and it further teaches, ‘A man should take a wife’.
“A man should take a wife and not wives. I’m not saying that polygamy is wrong. It is a tribal custom.
“But anyone who embraces Christianity should embrace the customs of Christianity and live up to them,” he says.
According to Diane Hubbard, the Coordinator of the Gender and Research Advocacy Project, they have prepared a report with the Law Reform and Development Commission on the recognition of customary marriages, which they submitted to the Minister of Justice in 2005, and they are awaiting a response from the ministry.