- 0% FURIOUS
- 0% BORED
- 0% SAD
I was 11 years old when I figured out why my grandfather had two bedrooms. He alternated, sleeping one night with my grandmother and the other night with his second wife.
My grandfather had left my grandmother in Morba, a small village in Maharashtra in India, to start a life in Cape Town in the 1930s. There he met a Malay girl who he fancied and soon married. When my grandmother arrived, with no English, no means of income and a brown skin in an apartheid-infected land, she had no choice but to put up with her situation for much of her life.
His second wife's room was the bigger and fancier one and was quietly accepted as the main bedroom. My grandmother's room, on the other hand, was both literally and metaphorically, a second bedroom. There was an unspoken hierarchy of women in the house. My grandmother ended up playing the part of lady's maid to the second wife and, although she bore more children, the second wife was younger and newer.
By the time I was born, my grandparents lived separately: Ouma lived with my parents and me, while my grandfather, who had gone blind, lived behind his convenience store with Mama, his second wife. My father and his five siblings held little resentment towards my grandfather, Mama and their son. They always treated them respectfully, as family, something I admired but never quite understood.
Even if Ouma had wanted to do something about her situation she was not seen as my grandfather's wife in any way that mattered -- their marriage was not recognised by South African law.
That was a long time ago. This year the Muslim Marriages Bill will be put before Parliament. If it is passed, men will need to seek court approval before being allowed to take subsequent wives and these marriages will be legal not only according to sharia law, but also in South African law.
Not all women who share their husband have had the difficult experience my grandmother had.
Friend marries anothers husband
Farah*, a 36-year-old university administrator from Paarl in the Western Cape, was divorced with a six-year-old son when her best friend, English teacher Nadia*, and her lecturer husband asked her if she would like to join their marriage.
"I was friends with both husband and wife," she says. "My friend asked her husband to approach me to get married. My initial response was 'no', but we spoke through it." She says the marriage has provided a sense of security for her child. The members of the family -- Farah and her son, Nadia and her husband and their three teenage children - live together in a large house, which was renovated to make space for all of them. There were little things that took time to adapt to.
"My husband used to have one person to confide in, now he has two," she says. "He has to think about which room he chooses to relax in after a long day. We try different cycles and schedules for where our husband sleeps at night. It's not without its hiccups. There's naturally jealousy in any relationship, but the closeness makes you overcome it."