National Council chairperson Margaret Mensah-Williams has a different view on the legality of polygamy to that of Attorney General Sacky Shanghala, who was quoted recently as having said the practice is legal in Namibia.
Mensah-Williams made the remarks at the close of yesterday’s session of the National Council while putting to rest confusion over her remarks on the subject to the effect that women should also be allowed to practice polyandry – which means having more than one husband. During an earlier interview with New Era, Shanghala said it is legal in Namibia and that the Native Administration Proclamation 15 of 1928 permits polygamy, as long as one declares it.
He said this means that under customary law one may marry as many wives as one chooses, but the only problem is, the law discriminates. It only allows black men to enter into polygamous relations. It does not make provision for white men.
It was his account that he would not draft a law that is unlawful, but if he wants to have many wives, he can have them.
Mensah-Williams yesterday said: “I am on record stating that I disagree with his interpretation, because I am not a lawyer and refer to myself as a ‘bush lawyer’ and my interpretation – just as that of many learned lawyers – is that customary laws are not yet recognised in Namibia and we should still legislate on it.” The discussion surfaced in light of debates on the Presidential Remuneration and Other Benefits Bill, which has created confusion over whether a sitting president is allowed to have more than one spouse, as is the case with South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma.
Also, it was at the time of this debate that Mensah-Williams, who is a staunch women’s rights activist, was quoted as arguing that women should be allowed to marry more than one husband if men are allowed to marry more than one woman. This led to an overwhelming backlash, especially on social media, where Mensah-Williams received a roasting for her remarks. Responding to this during the National Council session yesterday, Mensah-Williams did not mince her words when she quoted Bible verses, indicating that she only fears God and will defend what the Bible teaches. “In my sound mind, therefore, I cannot support polygamy as practiced by some men. Neither will I support polyandry, unlike what people believe. Polygamous marriages, as stipulated in our customary laws, are not yet recognised by civil law in Namibia and I cannot and neither can any member of this August House support laws not yet recognised in parliament,” Mensah-Williams explained.
“This is due to the fact that we subscribe to the Convention on the Elimination of All Discriminating Laws against Women, which Namibia signed and ratified, as well as the Maputo Protocol and SADC laws not yet recognised by parliament.”
She quoted from the abovementioned convention, saying: “States Parties shall commit themselves to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of women and men… with a view to achieving the elimination of harmful cultural and traditional practices.”
Mensah-Williams said as chairperson she does not debate in the Chamber, and hence she could not have made those remarks on the floor of the House. “I, however, had an informal discussion with the media during a coffee break in which I, as chairperson, explained why the Bill was referred to today (yesterday). It was to get legal clarity on issues where some members needed clarity, as it seems some clauses suggested or advocated for polygamy.”
She said it was for these very reasons that some politicians in the National Council were opposed to it. She said the analysis was needed in view of the fact that in future the president may very well be a woman, married according to customary marriage law.