DEEP feelings of sadness ran through the family of Jonas Ngulube (not real name), who died in a road traffic accident in Kitwe recently.
It was clear from the teary faces of the mourners that the family had lost the ‘pillar’ upon whom everyone depended.
The deceased was the adored breadwinner who was also known for his philanthropic work in his community.
However, some distressing scenes that unfolded during the funeral put a big dent on Mr Ngulube’s reputation, and unmasked his murky past.
The truth emerged that the man who was held in high esteem by his family and community members was a philanderer.
He had sexual relationships with different women with whom he had children.
It all started with one woman, a complete stranger to the family, who arrived at the house, wailing and twisting her body as she let out some shocking details.
“Bashi Junior bandi, nalacita shani nabana mwanshila…? (Bemba for ‘Junior’s dad, how am I going to cope with the children you have left me with?’)
This unsolicited revelation brought the mourners to silence as they stared at the woman in total disbelief.
That was not all. The family felt numb with shock when the following day, another woman surfaced to mourn her ‘dear’ husband.
The bitter truth had now hit everyone that apart from his legally married wife, Mr Ngulube had two more ‘wives’ who were not known by his family.
Since he was a successful business executive, he had even built houses for each one of them in some suburbs of Kitwe.
Reality dawned on the family that the man they had regarded as a loving husband, a caring parent, and a role model was nothing but a liar and a fraud.
Mr Ngulube is among the many men on the Copperbelt who are in polygamous marriages which most times remain hidden until death strikes.
While some secret marriages get exposed through different circumstances, it is during funerals when much is revealed, as the ‘other’ wives emerge with clear intentions to claim a share of the deceased’s estate.
Some social workers attribute the rising number of men extending their families beyond their legal spouses to a number of factors, which include lust and money.
For some men, it is failure to understand the meaning, and importance, of marriage.
Marriage, also called matrimony or wedlock, is a socially or ritually recognised union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws.
The definition of marriage varies according to different cultures, but it is principally an institution in which inter-personal relationships, usually sexual, are acknowledged.
In some cultures, marriage is recommended or considered to be compulsory before pursuing any sexual activity.
Individuals may marry for several reasons, including legal, social, libidinal, emotional, financial, spiritual, and religious purposes.
Who they marry may be influenced by socially determined rules of incest, prescriptive marriage rules, parental choice and individual desire.
In some areas of the world, arranged marriages, child marriages, polygamy, and sometimes forced marriages, may be practised as a cultural tradition.
Philimon Kalanga, from the Jesuit School of Theology in Kenya, defines polygamy as a culturally determined, socially acceptable and legally recognised form of permanent marriage where a man has more than one wife at a time.
According to Mr Kalanga, polygamy is still practised by a significant number of ethnic societies in the world.
In traditional Zambia, polygamy is associated with some tribes that include Tongas, Namwangas, and Mambwes.
Mr Kalanga states that there are many reasons for getting additional wives in polygamous cultures.
Among the Chewa people of Eastern Province, the first group of reasons relate to the community.
In such societies, the extended family is all-important. Polygamy is seen as the surest way to ensure the continuation and growth of the ethnic community, and the provision of a secure family situation for all adult females in the community.
Thus, polygamy by its nature implies a wider social network than is possible in the one-husband-one-wife marriage.
“In the Chewa culture, not to have children is considered a curse because it is an obstacle to the continuation and growth of the ethnic community.
“If you marry a wife and she is not giving you children, you have to marry another one who can give you children, but this has to be done in consultation with the first wife,” Mr Kalanga observes.
However, polygamy has filtered into the modern-day society, albeit in a different form.
Some men on the Copperbelt are motivated by different reasons when contracting multiple marriages.
Young Women’s Christian Association Copperbelt Coordinator, Sharon Chisanga says those with good income top the list of promiscuity.
“Money has brought problems in many marriages. We handle many cases of men who leave their wives and build other families in secret.
“The problem is that many young women do not bother whether a man is married or not, or indeed whether they can contract sexually transmitted infections; all they want is money,” Ms Chisanga said in an interview.
She said it was difficult to provide statistical proof of the escalating polygamous affairs in the province because most of them are shrouded in secrecy.
It is easier to know about extramarital affairs in poor, high-density areas where literacy levels are low, and aggrieved housewives are freer to express themselves than in status-driven low-density localities where women mostly suffer in silence.
The men who tyrannise over their spouses and have stable income have littered townships with children who they have little or no time to show parental love.
“There is a lot of pretence in upper-class areas where some women who know about their husband’s extra wives decide to keep quiet so that they maintain their status,” Ms Chisanga said.
She said many men had taken advantage of the current dual legal system in the country where customary law runs side by side with State law in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance rights.
In Zambia, one can marry under the Marriage Act, which only permits one man for one woman, or one can decide to marry under customary law and in church.
A man who contracts marriage under the Marriage Act and goes on to entangle himself in a second marriage is guilty of the offence of bigamy, and is liable to imprisonment for five years under Section 166 Chapter 87 of the Penal Code Act.
Therefore, some men prefer to contract marriages under the customary law because it does not carry such punitive measures, and it sits well with the cultural and social undertones in many parts of the country.
Some men ‘tied’ to the Marriage Act still contract additional marriages and use their financial capabilities to keep a lid on their illegalities.
Others who fail to support the children they have sired outside of their legal marriages only consent to child maintenance when there is a real threat of being exposed.
Ms Chisanga suggests that the Marriage Act and customary law should be harmonised so as to seal the loopholes that are leading to increased illicit marriages.
The high number of young mothers streaming into the paralegal office under the Catholic Diocese of Ndola to file child maintenance complaints against elusive married men shows the extent of the ‘extra wives’ in the city.
Ndola-Bwana Mkubwa Deanery paralegal coordinator, Andrew Chimfwembe says young women aged between 21-35 years, and men in the 30-55 year bracket, are the most notorious in illicit affairs.
Mr Chimfwembe laments that some women are stuck with married men because they lack financial independence.
“It is sad to see women coming to complain about irresponsible men who don’t provide for their children and yet you see them pregnant again by the same men.
“We counsel the young mothers to think about their future, but they still go back to their men because that is their source of income. It’s a vicious cycle,” Mr Chimfwembe said in an interview.
He said despite the children born outside of legal marriages being entitled to their father’s estate upon his death, they lacked parental love.
These are the children who may grow up knowing their fathers and still are so far away from the realities of life.
Under the Intestate Succession Act, Cap 59 of the Laws of Zambia, a ‘child’ means a child born in, or out of marriage, an adopted child, or a child who is conceived but not yet born.
Part two of the Act states that 50 per cent of the estate shall devolve upon the children in such proportions as are commensurate with a child’s age or educational needs or both.
This entails that children coming from ‘extra wives’ are as much a part of the 50 per cent share of their father’s estate as are those born within the legal marriage.
Mr Chimfwembe said the women who are trapped in affairs with married men are educated about the importance of preparing for their future, and gaining self-worth.
“We tell them that there is no dignity in fighting over the maintenance of their children. They can do well to stay away from married men some of whom can end up giving them diseases since they are sleeping with many other women,” he said.
Against this backdrop, economic empowerment of women, alongside increased sensitisation on the dangers of sexually transmitted infections, will help reduce the high incidence of ‘extra wives’ on the Copperbelt.