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Learners’ constructions of polygamy: narratives from one KwaZulu-Natal high school.

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The study sought to investigate the schooling experiences of high school learners who are directly or indirectly affected by polygamy. Focus was on the context of the dominant societal discourse that privileges monogamy above polygamy, and tend to render polygamy non- existent despite its prevalence in society. The study was particularly interested in finding the voice of the child regarding polygamy as a marriage system. Theoretically, the study was guided by Children’s Geographies and New Sociology of Childhood Studies which are concerned with children’s agency as well as space and places that children occupy in the hierarchy of social relationships. The study adopted a qualitative narrative research design, and utilised focus group and individual group interviews as its data generation methods. It was conducted with grade eight (8) to grade ten (10) learners from one High School in Molweni area, KwaZulu-Natal. A total of eleven (11) learners, five (5) boys and six (6) girls aged between fourteen and seventeen participated in the study. The findings revealed that participants mainly cited the unfair treatment of wives and children as the major concern and reason they are against the practice. Even those that are in favour of polygamy agreed with the fact that most fathers do not manage their households in a fair and equitable manner. Most of the participants cited the spread of HIV/AIDS as being exacerbated by polygamy and thereby making it difficult to provide solutions for the pandemic that has ravaged society for almost three decades. Participants also indicated that as children, they have resorted to getting menial jobs even before they finish matric in order to maintain themselves. The findings further indicate that not all participants were against the practice as others pledged their support for the longstanding practice. They cited family growth, alleviation of spinsterhood and the benefit of having many mothers as their main reasons for supporting polygamy. Some of the participants, especially boys, were brave enough to admit that they are fond of girls and therefore would like to be in polygamous relationships when they grow up. Although customary law makes provision for senior wives to consent to the husband’s decision to take another wife, however, participants indicated that women are usually dependent on men, financially and therefore, despite that the law protects them in principle, they remain subordinate to male authority. These findings suggest that schools must actively empower children, both girls and boys about their sexuality and have empowerment programs for the girl child. Some boys have indicated that they want to practice polygamy for sexual gratification and have a wider choice of sexual partners. This kind of thinking is obviously fractured for obvious reasons and society cannot afford it. Girls on the other hand need to be empowered and be encouraged to participate in business and in positions of power to turn the tide. The department of basic education must reinstate school counsellors in all schools so that there are programs that are put in place to assist learners who might be adversely affected by polygamy. Partnerships with community structures and parents should be promoted and encouraged with the aim to have community-based care centres for children who might be negatively affected by polygamy.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.