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Opinion: In Polyandry Lies the Power of Choice

Much of South Africa's ongoing debate about women having more than one husband is peppered with falsehoods, fallacies and the refusal to allow women to enjoy similar freedoms to their male counterparts.

Earlier this month, the South African government released a Green Paper, a policy discussion paper open for public comment, that seeks to amend the current Marriage Act. The Green Paper proposes the legal recognition of polyandry, defined as the act of women having more than one husband. Presently, only polygyny is recognised under the law, as is the case in numerous other African countries across the continent.

And while polyandry is practised in certain parts of Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Kenya, the mere mention of it has sparked controversy and debate among many South Africans. Admittedly, some of it has been rather amusing with quips about women being worse off with two men given the [redacted] quality of South African men already. Jokes aside! Much of the pushback against polyandry, from citizens, cultural and religious leaders as well as politicians, has unveiled the double standards often ascribed to relationships that typically cater to heterosexual men.


THE POLYGAMY WE'RE ALLOWED TO SEE

Polygyny, a form of polygamy where men have more than one wife, has always been more acceptable. It's been the norm across numerous other African cultures. Former South African President Jacob Zuma is a prolific polygamist with five wives. King Swati III of eSwatini selects a new wife at the annual reed dance and is currently on wife number 15. In South Africa, polygamy enjoys its own television show in the form of Uthando Nesthembu, which follows the lives of businessman Musa Mseleku, and his four wives — MaCele, MaYeni, MaKhumalo and MaNgwabe. Now on its third season, the show has undoubtedly been aspirational for men who aspire to be considered wealthy, revered and successful enough to have multiple wives and children who all depend on, just, one husband. Needless to say, Mseleku's desire to have a fifth wife has only served to further increase the show's popularity.

Uthando Nesthembu is important to highlight because as a society, we tend to display what we deem acceptable on our television screens. This is why queer television and films such as Inxeba: The Wound and Rafiki still receive much resistance because the queer community, itself, is still largely marginalised. The depiction of polygamy, and the aspiration for many to enter into polygamous set-ups, show just how much of a norm it is and has always been among both men and women. The same can't be said for polyandry though. Now that the shoe is quite possibly on the other proverbial foot, there is a deafening uproar based on a number of reasons.

THIS IS A (CIS-HET) MAN'S WORLD

Patriarchy reigns supreme. It continues to provide the holy grail of the dos and don'ts of relationships and dictates what can and cannot work — nevermind what women may want or need. Men are always at the centre and so relationship norms have become based almost exclusively on what they feel is comfortable and non-threatening to their masculinity. We can't "emasculate" the man now can we?

Naturally, this patriarchal way of living also informs religious views and moral beliefs vehemently against the idea of polyandry. Various cultural and religious leaders in South Africa have described polyandry as "disgraceful", "confusing to children" and a threat to "cultural values and norms" among other things. [Insert a side-eye, plus a deep, heavy sigh here!] Their arguments speak to polyandry being a wrecking ball that will potentially destroy the family unit, along with the very moral fabric of society as a whole. Compared to the reality of family units in South Africa and other parts of the world, their arguments just don't hold. Take for instance the divorce rate in the country. South Africa recorded 25 326 divorces in 2016, with almost half of them marriages which lasted less than 10 years. While that figure has been on a downward trend, it's not particularly exemplary either. Additionally, intimate partner violence is one of the highest in South Africa with half of the women murdered by their own partners. As if that weren't bad enough, at least 24 000 children were sexually abused and 943 murdered between 2018 and 2019. The family unit as we know it, and the lack of safety for both women and children in South Africa paint a picture of dysfunction, and not perfection. Thus, for religious and cultural leaders to claim that polyandry would cause these social ills, when they in fact already exist, and alarmingly so, is disingenuous at worst and delusional at best.

At the crux of this polyandry debate is the discomfort, and even anger, that women should dare enjoy the same freedoms as men. It's a refusal to, even, allow women to map out and navigate their relationships in a way that centres them for a change. . Monogamy has, for a long while, been the only model for romantic relationships available to women — the type often described as "respectable" and "wife material" at that. However, just as open relationships are becoming increasingly popular, along with other alternative models of relationships, polyandry should be seen as just that — another option! It's not about forcing individuals who find no meaning in polyandry to engage in it, for the false sense of progress, but to genuinely allow women to experience what they may never experience, or experience fully, in traditional relationship settings. Once we open ourselves to that possibility, we'll see that at the heart of polyandry lies the power of choice and that is scarcely ever a bad thing.

Music

Sarkodie Returns With New Single "Labadi"

The Ghanaian rapper features King Promise on his new single, which is expected to be a part of his upcoming album Jamz.


Internationally renowned Ghanaian hip hop artist Sarkodie just released his new single "Labadi" featuring King Promise. The two have frequently collaborated on songs in the past and have recently come together on this dreamy record, which has all of the makings of the soft life and vacation.

"Labadi" opens with Sarkodie's signature rhythmic, yet fast-paced rap and then transcends into King Promise singing the hook and chorus. With light-yet-prominent percussion in the background of the track, the song has all of the makings of a summery Afrobeats production, but is also thoroughly infused with hip-hop, Afropop and Amapiano.

The new single is Sarkodie’s first official single of the year and will be included in his eight studio album Jamz, which will be released on November 11. Although the song is called "Labadi," the music video was shot on the sunny and idyllic shores of Mykonos, Greece and was directed and co-directed by Capone and Babs Direction.

In his own words, the rapper describes the song as a feel-good song inspired by the idea of a boat party and being surrounded by loved ones:

"'Labadi' is a gateway song. It's about fun times with loved ones," Sarkodie mentions. "I was inspired by the idea of a boat party with some good people, just taking time off to enjoy life on the ocean. The melodies in the song are intended to bring out the positive vibrations in us. You just have to put all your worries away for a second and enjoy 'Labadi'."

For over 17 years, Sarkodie has contributed to the landscape of the Ghanaian music industry, and this has earned him national and international recognition. In 2019, he became the first winner of BET's Best International Flow artist at the BET Hip Hop Awards. To many, he is also considered one of the major driving forces of the renowned 'Azonto' dance, as well as one of the godfathers of African Hip-Hop.

Along with his new music ventures and upcoming album, Sarkodie is also expected to perform at the Global Citizen Festival in Accra on September 24 along other global powerhouse artists like Usher, SZA, Tems and Stormzy. Watch the dreamy video for 'Labadi' below.

Music
(YouTube)

The 9 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Mr Eazi, King Promise, Tiwa Savage, Major League DJz, and more.

Every week, we highlight the top releases through our best music of the week column, Songs You Need to Hear. Here's our round-up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks.

If you like these music lists, you can also check out our Best Songs of the Month columns following Nigerian, Ghanaian, East African and South African music.

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Film
Photo: Cyrille Choupas

Alice Diop On Using Film to Center Marginalized Stories

The French director, whose latest film Saint Omer has been selected by France as its submission for the Best International Picture race, is known for her nuanced portraits of humanity.

“When I hear myself through Nicholas, I find me [sic] too radical!” French filmmaker Alice Diop jokes during our conversation, after hearing some of her words and thoughts filtered through her translator Nicholas Elliott.

Diop was responding passionately to a question about the tensions in France between holding onto assimilation policies and embracing a more modern ethos of inclusion and diversity. She is tying her argument to the radical leaning of French republicanism, which is very, very different from the conservative spirit embraced by the Republican party in the United States, where she is expected to appear in October to present her latest film, Saint Omer at the New York Film Festival.

Saint Omer marks Diop’s transition to fiction after seventeen years working as a documentary filmmaker. The film, which won the Grand Jury prize and best debut feature prizes recently at the Venice Film Festival where it debuted, is a wrenching legal drama that follows a young novelist Rama (Kayije Kagame) covering the trial of an immigrant mother accused of infanticide.

Before her triumph at Venice, Diop was in New York to promote the MUBI release of her latest documentary, We (Nous), which premiered at the 2021 Berlinale, where it won the Encounters Grand Prize. The film chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south. Diop makes We (Nous) a personal declaration of belonging, weaving footage from her family archive and trailing her sister, a home nurse, at work as she provides care for her patients.

Diop, who is a first-generation daughter of immigrants from Senegal had a wide-ranging chat with OkayAfrica about her films, belonging to French society, and her reasons for prioritizing the stories of the marginalized.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In We (Nous), you are telling these seemingly unrelated stories without obvious connections. What is the common thread linking these stories or people together?

The link is a very personal vision that I have of French society. It is a vision that is at once a dreamed vision but also something already there and not many people see. It is about what can unite people who appear to be so different in a single territory or country. And in a sense, the thread is one that I am weaving myself. It doesn’t exist as such but something very subjective.

In terms of constructing the film, what was the starting point for you?

It started from the book, The Passengers of the Roissy Express published in France about 30 years ago. It is a nonfiction book in which the writer, François Maspero takes the RER B train and follows it to the last stop. This is the train that has the peculiarity of crossing all of the Paris banlieues (low-income suburbs) from north to south. Now these are very different areas that have a great diversity of populations that really express the complexity of French society. I read this book, and it gave me the framework for using the name of the train to describe these very different territories.

A still from the film, We (Nous) of train tracks.

We (Nous) chronicles a disparate group of people, including an immigrant mechanic and a writer from the Parisian suburbs, and places their lives in connection to the RER B commuter train cutting through the city from the north to south.

Photo: Mubi

At what point does your family come in and how do you weave them into the narrative?

This film is a composition of the singularities of the many different people who live and work in France, and my family is part of that history. That is why I wanted to use our family archive in the film because it is a symbolic way of inscribing these traces of my family, and people like them, who are not shown in the constitution of French society. The archive, for me, completes a missing part of French history. I have so little in terms of archives of my family. I have only less than 17 minutes of images of my mother and everything that I have is in this film. That is something very painful; the lives that my parents had were not necessarily appreciated. These were lives that were not epic or did not have the right narratives. At least that was the feeling that I had because the people that I saw on television, in films and novels were not like me. They did not have my history or background, so I grew up with that absence. And I think that is why I became a filmmaker, to repair the violence of having this unrepresented life.

In a sense, this film, and your entire career has been about adjusting this narrative?

Absolutely. This question touches me because this is at the very heart of my filmmaking. I have done this work ever since the desire came upon me to do it, as a way to not succumb to the anger. My new (fiction) film, Saint Omer is focused on Black women, and is inspired by my mother, and it made me realize how much I needed to do this. I want to add up their bodies in film and in history.

Film, for me, is not a space for entertainment, it is a space for revenge and self-care. Saint Omer is not about the banlieues at all. I believe that people from the banlieues have every right to make films that are not about the banlieues. It is about maternity, and I have every right to talk about maternity because it is a question that is relevant to Black women, as much as it is to white women. I am speaking from my own body, and I think the closer I am to myself, the more likely I am to touch other people.

In the film, you talk about not paying into the family fund that ensures you are buried back home in Senegal. Was coming to this realization difficult?

Exile is not just measured in economic gain; it is also a loss that I cannot even qualify. This relationship to the land where you will be buried, I find it a beautiful thing to choose where you are going to die. But the most concrete way of saying where you belong is to say where you are going to be buried. And for me to say it publicly the way I did was for me to cut myself off. I have a 13-year-old mixed race son who was born and lives in France. I speak French, I don’t speak Wolof. I go to Senegal twice a year at most. I am a Frenchwoman.

Now, I am a very particular kind of Frenchwoman; I am a Black woman with colonial history so the most concrete way for me to be French is to say I am going to be buried where my son lives, or where he is most probably going to live. And that’s not a choice between France and Senegal that I am making, it is a way of saying that I am in harmony with where I am. But it does separate me forever from the place where my parents came from. It is hard to think about, even in this conversation with you. It is the entire complexity that is raised here: of the path of immigrants, of the trajectories of coming and of going, of where you are. It is something that is so complex and intense that merely signifying it is already an achievement. It is also a very universal question.

A still from the film We (Nous) of the filmmaker sitting at a table with an interviewee.

Alice Diop and Pierre Bergounioux in a pivotal moment from We (Nous).

Photo: Mubi

And when you put yourself in the frame by the end of the film, are you completing this tapestry that you are sewing?

In a sense. My appearing with my Black woman’s body in the frame, next to this writer Pierre Bergounioux, in his office is a way for me to get revenge for my father for the 40 difficult years he spent working in France. There is a point in the film when I ask my father if spending these years in France has been positive or negative, and he says it’s been a positive gain overall. But I have the intuition that for his daughter to be able to go to university and do things that as a working man, and my mother as a cleaning woman, never had the opportunity to do, and then to show myself in the frame next to this white writer in the film that I am making -- that I have invited the writer to -- I think that shows something about French society and what it can allow. And that repairs, to some degree, the pain that my parents experienced by coming here to offer me a life that they could not have.

Translation by Nicholas Elliott.

Culture
Image courtesy of the artist

Spotlight: Obou Gbais Is Painting The Story of His Life

The artist is reimagining Cote D'Ivoire's history through modern, contemporary language and his latest project "Man Dan"

In our 'Spotlight' series, we highlight the work of photographers, visual artists, multimedia artists, and more who are producing vibrant, original work.

In our latest piece, we spotlight Ivorian artist Obou GbaisAKA Peintre Obou. Obou's remarkably detailed style of painting comes after years of training and educating himself in all things Cote D'Ivoire. The artist's work mirrors the society found in the aftermath of the Ivory Coast's political-military unrest, putting paint on the harsh conditions he witnessed in capital city Abidjan. The emotive expressions donned on the Dan masked faces speak to Obou's acknowledgment of his people and the shameful conditions forced upon them due to a war that didn't involve them. As the artist puts it, "The main theme is the human condition, the characteristics, major events, and situations that make up the essence of human existence", and tapping into his ancestry allows the talent to soothe all aspects of his identity, one paint stroke at a time.

We spoke with Obou about the importance of learning from those who are where you wish to be, and finding authenticity.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.


Describe your background as an artist and the journey you've taken to get it to where it is today.

I was born in the West of the Ivory Coast and studied in Abidjan, the capital. My ambition to become an artist started at a young age, and knew that I would pursue it in high school, and then when I went to college. I worked hard at improving myself -- and to form myself as well as my art -- and in 2012, I obtained my BA in Art. Two years later, I attended Abidjan's National School of Fine Art and from that moment, I really started to practice and educated myself in the world of art.

For five years I attended painting workshops with teachers who were also artists and who exposed me to the creation of the "perpetual". I learned a lot from them and it allowed me to open my work up to constructive criticism, which today has given me a certain openness of mind on art and the ability to continuously renew myself.


What are the central themes in your work?

My work is the story of my life -- my environment, my culture, my love stories, my traumas. My daily life. The main theme is the human condition, the characteristics, major events, and situations that make up the essence of human existence. I talk about my life, my city and also the people who live there. The element that defines me today is the Dan Mask. I have reappropriated the mask of my ancestors to create a contemporary language. In my work, I reconcile my contemporaries with their ancestral cultures by writing my story in a series of works. Generally, one sees masked crowds, one finds demoiselles of my city Abidjan. Couples and family scenes are perceived with the Dan mask and take the center of interest.


What is your medium of choice, and why?

I am sensitive to all mediums and supports but generally gravitate towards those that allow me to better transcribe the story I am telling. It's enriching for me to keep experimenting with new materials in order to be able to tell new stories. I work mostly with brushes, acrylics, and collages, but also with my hands and natural materials like earth, which give my artwork even more authenticity.

How has the pandemic affected you creatively?

The pandemic has affected my creativity in a productive and positive way. I suddenly had more time alone at home to concentrate on my work and try out new elements and methods. Many people had to limit themselves to a minimum during this time, which can be inspiring, especially for artists. Already this is a time in our lives when we were condemned to wear masks and my work is about people wearing masks. It allowed for some connections with my outside world. The series of confined people in their homes and on the streets was a testimony to the realities of that period in Abidjan.


Can you describe your artistic relationship with 'Afro-futurism' and 'surrealism'?

I consider myself as an Afro-futurist because I use, like all young people today, new technologies such as social networks to talk about my culture and share my creations with the world. Putting my country on the world stage through my work and especially my history. I would say that I consider myself a realist and not a surrealist, just by what I transcribe in my daily life -- I speak about real facts with real forms.


Can you talk about your use of colors and jewelry in your art?

The colors and jewelry are elements that appear at different times. There have been times when my work was quite dark with minimal color. And also periods when I feel a lot and peace which are symbolized in my work with quite fresh colors which give emotions.



Image courtesy of the artist

"Dan Love" 150x150 cm 2022 by Obou Gbais

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