A few weeks ago, I randomly responded to a South African Twitter character who had posted that polygamy was the future. I discouraged it, pointing out it was not compatible with peace.
I was also honest, stating that I was probably the reason why my version of polygamy failed.
I didn’t anticipate how far-reaching those responses would go – a mistake I make several times. The responses, which I will paste below, developed a life of their own and galloped into the wind and onto news websites and a Kenyan newspaper.
The responses solicited extreme emotions and counter-responses. I read every single one of them. Several people simply misread what I said while others misquoted me entirely. Some, read my opinions through the lens of their own experiences, while others, simply took national sides and I will touch on this later. In a private conversation with Samuel Mtukudzi, a friend, and a mentor I look up to, a suggestion was made, that I share my thoughts and experiences, away from the limits of Twitter. So here I am.
I lived my life, with my two wives privately for a couple of years before “coming out” when a local paper threatened to “out” one of my wives as a secret concubine. And so, I brought my wives together, sat them down, and in a brief post of so many words came out as polygamous.
The first few years were great. Coming out removed a burden on my shoulders. My wives got along and called each other sisters – although, sadly, by the other’s admission, she never meant it – something which later caused them to fall out.
Nonetheless, Zimbabwean social media groups (and they are vile and toxic) attacked my other wife. It was my other wife who flew her to South Africa and housed her in her home, to protect her and show solidarity. By the end of that visit, they had fallen out.
A month later, at a double funeral, they would not even talk, let alone be in the same space. They had gone from exchanging children to being estranged. I attempted to iron it out, and asked elders to intervene. It did not work.
Several other things happened in between. I failed to cure the conflict. I reset the relationships to their original form and kept them away from each other. They only met at funerals and weddings, or special events, like to bid me farewell when I left for the UK. It ensured they were no more exchanges, but the hostility remained.
Some level of cooperation remained though. Groceries and clothes for all children were done by my other wife during lockdown, and they coordinated how to send and collect them in Zimbabwe. When I fell gravely ill in 2021 due to Covid, it was my first wife who messaged my second to tell her the situation was terrible, and she should consider death a possibility.
My new method was working. I led two separate relationships that only interacted in serious and extreme circumstances. Each lived in their own country, with their own children, and with no opportunities for daily interactions and therefore conflict.
By the end of that year, and for personal reasons that had nothing to do with the other, my relationship, and indeed my polygamy, came to an end. I was in Malawi when it happened, I fell apart, I recovered, but most importantly I learnt.
Social media was at the heart of the collapse of my polygamy
Without beating about the bush, my marriages were peaceful and coherent until we popped up on social media. I am thick-skinned, having been the subject of viral ridicule, abuse, and threats over a decade. When I came out as polygamous and married to a South African woman, it opened old wounds of old tales of Zimbabwean men who crossed the Limpopo and never returned.
I was abused. I didn’t relent. Boipelo was abused, she stood her ground (only breaking down once). When the abusers failed to puncture her or me, they turned on Mutsa, calling her stupid, dull and silly for accepting a “ridiculous” arrangement as the one she had accepted.
Of course, none of these people knew the facts. They didn’t know how much Mutsa loved me, and they didn’t know how often I had offered to part ways with her. Or that, she is a lovely woman who only wanted to save her family. Nonetheless, the abuse got to her. She deleted her Facebook account and went into a shell. To be honest, my shy flower that I first kissed on December 10, 14 years ago, became a shell of herself.
Much later, the abuse became spotlighted on Boipelo. I knew she was strong, but as the more vulnerable one in our marriage, I sprung to her defence. I broke my own rule, of not letting others dictate how I behave.
But I was in a conundrum. I couldn’t just watch Boipelo taken apart, on false claims, most of which were purely because she was “South African” or “Sasco” as Zimbabweans call it. Yet in defending her, and prioritising her, I increasingly isolated Mutsa.
I learnt then that I should have kept the relationship private. In going public, I opened new flanks for attack, and as I am one person, I could never defend multiple flanks at the same time.
Polygamy: A battle of balance
I concluded, quite early following the collapse of my marriage, that I was not built for polygamy. My belief is that my polygamy failed because I was lousy at it.
In fact, several people over several years, disliked me because they felt I loved one wife over the other. I refused to see this because I knew it was simply untrue. What was true, however, was that I had a better relationship with my other wife, and we shared the same interests and profession – and therefore were generally closer.
This is not to say I wasn’t close to my other wife. I was. I loved her deeply. But we just weren’t as close. So, for instance, where I had thousands of pictures with Boipelo, one often found I had less images with Mutsa because she wasn’t big on pictures.
I also took exception to people saying everything needed to be balanced. My view was that balance means everyone should get what they put in. Because if one wife didn’t put effort in her relationship, but was rewarded based off the efforts of the other wife, then that would be an injustice, isn’t it?
In hindsight, my stubbornness there didn’t help. The concept of balance in pure terms – do for A what you do for B will always be at odds with the concept of justice, which says, reward equally what each partner does.
Some people say they can balance. I cannot. I failed miserably at it. I would likely fail again.
Polygamy: Nationality and Xenophobia were at the centre of our problems.
When I look at my wife Boipelo, I don’t see my “South African wife”. I see my wife, partner, and friend for the last donkey’s years. But that view is limited to me. From the day we “came out”, my wife’s inbox has been inundated by threats and insults of every shape or form, and all to do with her nationality.
There are many Zimbabweans, like my nephew Tino Mambeu, who has three wives. Or Gabriel Mapfunde, who has four if I recall correctly. The response to their arrangements has not been as charged as mine.
One of the reasons I always read, from many people, was that I had met Mutsa when I was poor and abandoned her when I had money. Despite debunking this many times, it has persisted.
Several people, including family members, have testified to how Boipelo, as the only working spouse for a while, took care of bills and childbirth costs, even for Mutsa’s child.
Those details should have never been shared, as they were too intimate, and those that disliked Boipelo, did so for no other reason except that she was a foreigner. In explaining everything Boipelo did for me, and Mutsa, when she was working, people took it as an attack of Mutsa and an inference that Mutsa did nothing for me.
I learnt much later, after the collapse of my marriage, that people hated me for marrying a foreigner, largely because of the old tales of men going to work in South African mines and never returning. Had I observed this I would have taken care to explain this context, and not isolated Mutsa by public explanations.
Where I stand on polygamy
One of the things that I do a lot now, which I never did before, is to read responses. And several people in response to my tweets, concluded that I inferred I never loved Mutsa. Partly this is my fault. Even though I plastered several follow-up tweets explaining what I meant.
I must say for the record, Mutsa Manyowa is an amazing person. I have loved her since November of 2010. I have never stopped. Our relationship fell apart because of fundamental differences between us. None of those was love.
Mutsa will always be a loved, cherished, and prized member of my family. She will have a prime seat at my own funeral. I have never stopped loving her. Away from the whispering voices of people who are unconnected from the situation on the ground and between us, I am certain she knows what failed us as a couple – but my love for her is forever.
It was my love for her that inspired me to appear polygamous in public. The reason I came out, was not to protect Boipelo. It was to protect Mutsa. It’s a conversation me and her had. Had I been outed as leading separate lives, I would have had no choice but to explain what I am explaining now, that I am married to Boipelo, and Boipelo only.
In recent times, I sit and reflect, a lot. I am convinced I am the problem. It is me. And I accept that, in the periods of both my marriages, I hurt both women, in ways that have led us here.
I have incredible memories of both relationships. I still remember the first time I laid my eyes on Mutsa Manyowa, the mother of my children.
I also remember the first time our lips touched and the rest that followed. I could spend a whole day speaking about the incredible memories we shared together, and the years when I was her rock, foundation, and everything.
Although I never actually was married to her, customarily or legally, I always presented her to the world as my queen and the love of my life. And she probably remained on that throne privately until 2019, and publicly until a few weeks ago. Mutsa knows I love her, she knows when I loved her deeply, and when things changed between us.
I also remember vividly, the day I met Boipelo Manyowa, also the mother of my children. I remember our first date, our first kiss, and our first trip together. Our marriage was full of incredible highs, which are documented. I proudly told anyone who cared to listen that I loved her.
I love and shall forever love Boipelo and Mutsa – who, to me, will always be my family. My own.
Polygamy: A life of no peace and the future
The thing with polygamy is, it is all good, until it is all bad. There is no middle ground, and no middle course. The two or three years I lived happily with Boipelo and Mutsa were amazing. When things were good, they were awesome. If I had issues with Mutsa, I could forget them while I was with Boipelo. And vice versa.
But when things began to fall apart, I had no solution. I could not arrest the decline fast enough, neither could I ever erase the hostility. When things got heated, they got heated in both houses, leaving me stone-faced.
I never knew peace after that. Many of my days were spent firefighting, making concessions, arranging compromises, and appeasing both. When my first marriage (let’s call it that) ended, I felt a weight off my shoulders. The rest will have to be in part two.
– Maynard Manyowa is a journalist and PhD candidate based in England.