Far from traditional, just about everything about this unconventional family is thoroughly modern, right down to the designer kitchens and the pairs of SUVs in the garage.

If you are not already hooked on Uthando neSthembu, you will be after just one episode.

Pity that the reality show airs on the pay television channel. That certainly restricts the voyeuristic audience that can peer into Musa Mseleku’s polygamous homestead.

He has his work cut out for him with television cameras following his four stylish wives and 10 feisty children.


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MaMkhulu enjoys seniority as the first wife. MaYeni plays second fiddle as the second wife. No polygamous household would be complete without a MaKhumalo who in this instance is the third wife.

Then there is MaNgwabe, the fourth wife. They are each called in a respectful way that honours their father’s clan rather than simply Mrs Mseleku.

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A little more about that later. Mseleku’s Umtentweni family arrangement is just down the coast from my beloved Bangladesh market district.

A generation ago polygamous arrangements were not uncommon in my milieu. Bear in mind many Chatsworth people were forcibly moved under the Group Areas Act from various places where they had much larger homesteads.

Coming up tonight on #UthandoNesthembu! Don’t miss your favourite Mzansi family at 20:00!

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If they were farmers, larger families with multiple spouses and troupes of children meant more hands in the field.

Prosperous men especially had the habit of marrying more than one wife and not uncommonly marrying sisters.

There was also a tradition of marrying the widow of one’s departed brother so that neither she nor the children would be left vulnerable or destitute.

One of my great grandmothers had three husbands. It’s not likely that she had them all simultaneously.

One of the peculiarities of colonial indenture was the great imbalance in the ratio of men to women.

That also explains why Indian and Zulu bloodlines merged happily until apartheid segregation made such marriages more difficult.

Professor Uma Dhupelia-Methrie’s From Canefields to Freedom, published on the 150th anniversary of the first Indian indenture, shows a lovely image of one such family in Inanda.

To better understand cultural practices associated with marriage, a reading of Eileen Jensen Krige’s The Social System of the Zulus is highly recommended.

For a grasp of how and why Zulu praise names are used in the way they are in the Mseleku homestead, two exceptional books are Trevor Cope’s Izibongo – Zulu Praise Poems and Professor E Thamsanqa Sithole’s Izithakazelo nezibongo zakwaZulu.

Twitterville though #uthandonesthembu

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Don’t be deterred if your command of Zulu is less than fluid; there are fascinating cultural insights to be gained nonetheless.

Several of these books are scarce. If you’re ever on the hunt for a hard-to-find title, look up Professor Vishnu Padayachee, who is the doyen of antiquarian and collectible book dealers.

Find Higgins on Facebook as The Bookseller of Bangladesh and on the first Sunday of the month at the Nelson Mandela Chatsworth Youth Centre flea market.

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