By Michael Gwarisa in Binga, Matelele
POLYGAMY is one oldest practice in African culture including Zimbabwe. Back in the day, having more than one wife was a sign of power and wealth and men could be revered for exhibiting such capabilities.
More women would translate to greater yields and productivity in the fields was guaranteed as the women would bear more children who would work in the fields hence making him a household name in the community.
In modern-day Rural Matelele Village in Binga, Polygamy is not a crime and neither is it looked down upon as is the case in most areas around Zimbabwe. Regardless of it being treated as an archaic or medieval practice which could expose many the HIV pandemic, Binga still has the lowest HIV prevalence rate in Zimbabwe even though the people still practice polygamy.
Even though Polygamy has proven to be a functional family system in Binga, Infant health and nutrition interventions remain threatened by the practice as mothers juggle between who to prioritise or who to give the Lion’s share when it comes to food.
According to nutrition experts, for a child to beat malnutrition, he/she has to get a four star diet which comprises of Animal source foods, Seeds and nuts, Starch foods and fruits and vegetables.
Sabina Mutanga (25), a wife in a polygamous marriage in Zingozo2 Village in Binga said the issue of ensuring that a child gets a balanced diet is difficult under polygamous circumstances.
“In our marriage set up, we are two wives, I have three children and my co-wife also has three children. Our husband is a fisherman and spends most of his time in the Zambezi river. When he comes every day, we have to ensure he gets the best and special food so that he gets the energy to go back to work the following day.
“Whatever our husband catches we sell, we rarely eat the fish at home because we need the money. So maybe at times that is why our children are malnourished here in Binga. We have however joined a garden cooperative which is made up of 19 women whereby we try to grow our own vegetables both for consumption and commercial purposes,” said Mutanga.
Marvel Mzamba from Sababa Village who is also in a polygamous marriage bemoaned the issue of polygamy saying under such an arrangement, a woman’s major goal was to please her husband both sexually and through ensuring he is well fed and at times the child is side-lined in the process.
Binga District Administrator Lydia Banda Ndeti said they were employing a multi sectoral approach to their efforts to end malnutrition in Binga.
“You can see that when we started, everything was one sided but now we have adopted a multi sectoral approach whereby the ministry of health is not only one involved. We have now brought in community members, traditional leaders women and men in the fight against malnutrition.
“We are still in a very polygamous society here and one of my chiefs has got eight wives so it’s not anything new here. They are all staying in one homestead, and when the first wife goes to the market to sell her fish, she leaves the children with the younger wife so that she feeds and baths the children. So it’s difficult for proper nutrition requirements to be adhered to under such circumstances,” said Ndeti.
She added that the issue of illiteracy was an issue among women in Binga and as a result, the women were not informed and making them understand what a four star diet is, was not an easy call.
Meanwhile, Save the Children Zimbabwe, Binga Nutrition Officer, Bekezela Ncube said the issue of polygamy in Binga was a serious issue and the cultural practices in Binga keeps the father away from playing his fatherly role to his children.
“The Uncle or the wife’s brother plays an important part in the life of a child here in Binga. Most fathers are not that involved in the rearing and upkeep of their children, it is the women who bear the brunt of looking after the children.
“The issue of illiteracy among women is also an issue here, the nearest secondary school here in Matelele was built three years ago. Most girls do not go beyond primary level thus leading to high ignorance to critical life saving tips for their children,” said Ncube.