Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Health Reporter
HE traces his roots back to the time of King Mzilikazi’s long journey to Bulawayo from neighbouring South Africa during the 1830s with his great grandfather, Phambilikwempondo, as one of the king’s trusted advisors.
They finally settled in Bulawayo, which became the king’s palace. Families then were deeply rooted in traditional values and took pride in cattle rearing; a symbol of wealth and having many children (polygamy), which he says is the cornerstone of the Ndebele identity.
The advisory role was passed on to his grandfather, Nonoka who served under King Lobengula after which the family was forcibly relocated to Insuza, Matabeleland North, when the settler regime grabbed power in the 1890s.
His father, Sikhubo, did not enjoy much of the family wealth as colonialists pushed them further to rural Lupane, where he grew up.
Today these names are not only part of his treasured history but are wards found at Royal Women’s Clinic — a private health facility at Hillside in Bulawayo, which he built from scratch.
This is the story of renowned Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Professor Solwayo Ngwenya (51), a proud polygamist and traditionalist who vows never to divorce himself from his family tradition.
Currently married to three wives who stay with him under one roof, he says polygamy is at the heart of his cultural identity and vows to keep alive the Ngwenya clan even for 100 more years to come.
This week he was blessed with his eighth child, being a third son and Prof Ngwenya took time to share his other side of life.
“I come from a deep conservative family. I’m a descendant of the Zwide kaLanga family, which came here with King Mzilikazi with my grandfather as his chief advisor,” he said.
“Riches and big families have been a part of us since then and there was no way I could rid myself of this rich culture because of education.
“Polygamy is one of our cornerstones and I would like to shed more light on the practice, which is founded on equality and ensuring one grows their legacy even beyond their life.
“My father had more than 20 children from two wives and I was the youngest, a child of his old age as he had me when he was 63,” says Prof Ngwenya.
His mother Bebi Ndlovu was 46 when Prof Ngwenya was born and he named his children’s ward at Royal after her as she played a major role in the man he is today.
“I had ample time to learn more about my roots while herding donkeys in Lupane and interacting with my father,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“I always knew that I would have a big family like them and I take pride in that.”
While he may not have more than 20 children as his forefathers, he said the aim is to get to at least 12 children.
“I’m married to MaMkandla, MaMkhwananzi, and MaKhanye and currently have eight children.
I cannot say I will stop at three wives, no, that is dependent on what the elders will require of me.
“However, I know that I will grow this clan and do my best to continue in the footsteps of my forefathers,” he said.
Prof Ngwenya said his “women” are housewives whose major role is to help him build his clan and take care of his children who should understand the importance of culture.
“Polygamy is not a product of lust as some people assume but a cornerstone of our culture, which was instituted to grow our people,” he added.
“In polygamy, equality and honesty must reign supreme for one to be able to build a happy marriage.
“I have always been clear with all my women and all of them get to know that I’m a polygamous man whose role is to fulfil the vision of his forefathers. It’s not about greed or lust but safeguarding my culture as a traditional guy.”
Prof Ngwenya said he equally shares his money, time and every resource with his wives and believes this stance is a foundation of a successful polygamous marriage.
“Polygamy has been badly managed especially after colonisation whereby wives see each other as rivals but they are supposed to be in a sisterhood,” he said.
“So, I go for women who understand culture and the fact that I want a big family, which cannot come from one woman. My role then is to provide for all their needs and treat them equally so that they remain happy all the days of their lives.”
Prof Ngwenya said his wives have a communal lounge and kitchen, which gives them and the children a chance to bond.
“You cannot spend all your time with the new wife, no, you’ll destroy your marriage. You have to have resources of course. There is no way you can earn US$100 and you want polygamy, it won’t work! How do you share $100 even among two women?
“Women have so many needs including hair, clothes, nails and all sorts of presents they like receiving daily. It’s no child’s play honestly,” he said.
Prof Ngwenya says he normally goes for shopping with members of his family on weekends and did admit that polygamy is “capital intensive” and should not be an option for anyone who is not financially secure.
He also said he would rather have his wives take care of his children all day long than have them work as domestic workers can never be trusted.
“I respect women for their household and motherhood duties. It’s a full-time job on its own hence I will rather have them stay at home and build the clan while I work so hard to provide for all their needs,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“In a polygamous relationship you cannot lie because women talk and can easily pick any funny thing and you have broken the cardinal rule of how to maintain your marriage.
“Even if their needs differ, you have to ensure an equal amount is spent on all of them. They cannot live in different suburbs. That is why we live in one house, which has extensions. They, however, eat from the same plate.”
Prof Ngwenya said the eighth son came from his youngest wife MaKhanye and soon the family is expecting a ninth member as MaMkhwananzi is expecting.
“As a learned man I know how important it is to protect women from any form of abuse, hence we don’t have seniority in our marriage.
“They are all equal and whenever there are disputes, we try and solve them amicably without fear or favour so that even the day I die these women will live peacefully knowing there were no favourites and that I loved and treated them equally,” he said.
Prof Ngwenya said although he is traditional, he endeavors to keep his women happy all the time and goes out of his way on their birthdays and other special days.
Although he doesn’t subscribe to Valentine’s Day, which is western, he says he buys flowers, chocolates and presents just to make them happy.
“No one gets any favors, money or presents from me secretly at home. We declare everything so that our marriage survives. I think serious men should only go for polygamy once they understand its role in our culture,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“They should also desist from having mistresses, it’s against our culture, its either one is in a monogamous relationship or polygamous relationship.”
His eldest wife Princess Mnkandla said indeed theirs was a sisterhood as they never felt they were in competition although they share one man.
She said she relates well with her sister wives who are like her younger sisters and what makes it work is the fact that they all understand the nature of the relationship.
“From the day I fell in love with Ngwenya, I knew what I was getting myself into and I accepted that I will have sister wives,” she said.
“Polygamy is doable and fun only if you are willing to make it work and for us, it’s a sisterhood that gets better with each passing day,” said MaMnkandla.
“We can easily eat from the same with all our children and it’s so normal for us to just gather, chat, laugh and enjoy life as one unit. Ever since Ngwenya brought in the new wives his treatment hasn’t changed, I still get all the love, money, attention as if I was the only wife. He is constant and very honest and we love that more about him as our husband.”
MaMnkandla said she has never regretted getting into this marriage because Prof Ngwenya loves them all, adding that they all know there may be other sister wives to join the marriage and “it won’t amaze” them as it is part of the culture, which they happily subscribe to.
MaMnkandla said even the children are treated equally and they too understand that they have three mothers living under one roof.
“Besides the love, money, presents we get from uNgwenya, we have duties to host our husband and the duty roaster is maintained. He doesn’t have a specific bedroom. He has to be in one of the rooms and there is never a day where he sleeps alone,” she said.
“When we fight, we try to resolve our conflicts as women to make it work to maintain the harmony, which is very possible if everyone plays their part.”