Adultery damages, Christianity, the African man

Nick Mangwana View from the Diaspora

After all lobola is being paid for a number of “small houses”, creating bastardised marital unions. Clearly the law should not and has failed to negotiate sexual norms.

For a second week in a row this column is going onto social commentary and stay away from politics. The people have had enough politics. All they are asking for is delivery of better outcomes for their children and hope for their youths. They want to know that beautiful Zimbabwe is a place one should be comfortable to bring forth children in. Let the leadership of our country assure the people through actions and not rhetoric. You see, the temptation to continue on this line is quite overwhelming but it will be resisted. We have the issue of adultery damages to discuss.

To put it simply, a good judge has refused to accept that if one is married and that marriage is solemnised under the so-called Chapter 5.11 (formerly Chapter 37) and they have an intimate relationship with a third party, the third party can be sued for damages. This is the simplest way of looking at it. Efforts will be made to navigate this discussion while avoiding a contempt of court indictment. To do that a social rather than legal commentary will be made.

As is the trend in this small country called Zimbabwe, still punching above its weight on the world stage. It has now given the world the term “small house”. Typing “small house meaning” in the search engine will yield the following, “Small house is a Zimbabwean expression describing an extramarital affair or a party involved in one. It usually describes girlfriends of a married male, a reflection of the polygamous history of the country”.

Considering that marriage is a socially sanctioned union and therefore if you are staying with a woman even if one doesn’t have a marriage certificate or hasn’t paid lobola for her but have kids with her that woman is a “wife”. Not a partner like they say in the Diaspora.

In the townships decades ago there used to be a system of men in a certain social station to send their wives to stay in the rural areas where they would help to maintain the family estate, and till the land. More often than not the man would play away. But some men would dare defile the marital bed by bringing a paramour home. Early morning as the paramour is being smuggled out, one alert early rising housewife would shout, “Hure!!” (Whore). All hell would break loose with pots and pans flying around as housewives would assault the paramour on behalf of the cheated on but absent wife. That’s housewife solidarity there. That would normally be the end of the matter. The paramour would not report, she would not fight back. The wife would not sue. Maybe because they had the wrong marriage chapter or maybe it was ill-advised to sue a lady of the night. Not these days. One can take your husband and still beat the junk out of you (to use vernacular).

Society has always frowned upon married women that cheat and has been more tolerant of married men that stray. This is possibly the result of the polygamous background and the lobola concept as well. This sentiment has been considered quite unfair by some in that adultery brings shame to the woman and never to the man unless the other part was a married woman. Then in the case of cuckolding another man there are consequences in some cases which would be considered as an equivalent of adultery damages.

In some communities there was the issue of runyoka or rukaho which always locked the woman to fidelity and not the man. In this case as in adultery damages, the punishment was targeted at a third party and not the offender. If the third party wanted to be redeemed of the runyoka they had to compensate the husband. Failure for which there could be death or humiliation of disproportionate margins. So traditionally the third party was always punished if it was someone’s wife but never if it was someone’s husband. And certainly never if the woman was not married. One remembers with fascination the case that happened in the ‘80’s in Chinhoyi when one man was alleged to have grown female genitalia on his forehead for sleeping with a married woman. He was unaware of this and was seen walking at Chinhoyi terminus only to realise that he had a spectacle on his forehead when a sizeable crowd had gathered around him laughing and jeering. He had to pay compensation (damages) for the “thing” to be removed from his forehead.

If you see a Karanga getting over friendly or over familiar with a married woman just remind them of their mythical belief based on karma. They simply say, “ukatora mukadzi womunhu, wako unotogwavo” (You take another man’s wife, yours will be taken as well”). The mere thought of being cuckolded is usually enough to stop a Karanga dead in his lustful tracks.

Religion, mystical belief and social order cannot be separated. The social order of a patriarchal society is that man has excessive power over a woman. A lot of reasons for infidelity have been advanced. Maybe for women there are a lot of reasons which include certain longings, attention seeking behaviour, and unmet physical needs for them to stray. As for men, do they need a reason? Conventional wisdom suggests otherwise. Some even suggest that a man is as faithful as his options. The only question is whether the State should legislate marital behaviour.

Coming back to this issue of adultery damages, do they have a place in a modern society whose morals and values continue to change at a breath taking rate? Whoever thought a father would visit and stay with a daughter who also lives with a boyfriend who is yet to pay a single cent to him? Can we legislate marital behaviour even in the civil sense?

Seeing that it is only two people that make vows to have exclusive intimate rights over each other, doesn’t it then stand to reason that third parties are not forced to observe covenants signed between two people they are not related to? Isn’t it that the two that took those vows owe it to one another to observe and honour those vows and not third parties? And still where does the mantra of my body, my choice come in? Isn’t the only deterrent supposed to be the love and respect for the other party rather than the fear that the person you stray with would pay damages to your significant other?

The trend that this columnist has observed in the Diaspora is that most people don’t even bother making contact with the third party.

If at all they engage with the third party it is mainly to establish the level of betrayal they have been subjected to but not for hostility reasons.

This is because of the recognition that one cannot manage the world but him or her who you signed a marriage contract with. Of course religion, particularly Christianity, has been cited as the basis of a legislated marriage moral code. That’s another dicey basis.

When it comes to marriage, churches of today centre their position on the New Testament knowing the polygamous nature of the Old Testament unions and the number of “small houses” under the name of “concubines”. So for expedience the churches use the Old Testament mainly for money mongering knowing that the New can be tricky. What with having the tent-maker Paul saying in Acts 20:33-34, “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me”.

Further, who would have a universal Christian position on these matters when in other Christian circles one has, Vapositori of the Johane Marange, the Gumbura kind of Christianity and others having a divergent view on monogamy? Doesn’t this judgment then come to the individual rather than a social or even legal consensus?

As Africans move more towards monogamous relationships, sometimes the trade off is between polygamy and serial monogamy with a few divorces along the way or monogamy with the appendages of small houses for men. At this point maybe the trend of women being also major offenders these days should be noted.

The reality is that Zimbabweans rightly or wrongly are seeking outside diversions by engaging in concurrent intimate liaisons. Whilst suing might give retributive catharsis, it is never a deterrent. One might get rid of a particular third party but as long as the common denominator (your significant other) remains, another third party will simply stand in the gap of the last. In any case everyone knows the husband is normally the one that pays the damages on behalf of the other party anyway.

After all lobola is being paid in a number of “small houses”, creating a bastardised marital unions. Clearly the law should not and has failed to negotiate sexual norms.

Only indolent and indigent men would demand money from the man that took their wives. A lot more would simply walk away whilst the “holy” ones would forgive and hope for the best.

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