26/05/2017 02:30 BST | Updated 26/05/2017 07:05 BST

Can You Actually Afford To Be A Polygamist? Here's What It Takes.

“Without money, polygamy cannot survive,” says Uthando Ne'Sthembu star.

Mzansi's new reality show Uthando Ne Sthembu’s gives viewers a front row seat into the dynamics of a polygamous marriage.

Vusumuzi Mthembu, writing on polygamy in the Nguni culture, said: "Bathi asiganwe umfazi ngamunye. Lezi zintombi ezingangotshani zizophelelaphi? Ziyogana izinyamazane? Phinde!" Translated, it says "They say we must be married to one wife. What will then happen to these many women? Who will they marry? Deers? Never!"

Perhaps the question Vusumuzi would have to answer today is: "If we want to marry many wives, can we afford to?"

And this is what the University of KwaZulu-Natal's cultural expert, Gugu Mkhize says all polygamists-to-be must consider -- the financial implications of the practice.

"Polygamy seems not viable in the 21st century if you can't afford it," she told on Wednesday HuffPost SA.

This is especially important in an age where marriages in general have been found to be buckling under money pressures, with financial strain being the biggest cause of marital conflict and marriage breakdowns. This, then, can be exacerbated in a polygamous situation.

Polygamy and money back in the day

Historically, finances, although important, were not too big of a consideration in polygamous situations.

Mthembu notes, for example, that if a man who wanted to take more wives couldn't afford lobola, he could borrow from another family and pay back only when he was comfortable to do so.

Additionally, what relieved the financial stress back then was the arguably simpler and cheaper lives they led, Mkhize said.

The number of wives enabled more hands in the household.

"There was no concept of a domestic helper or a nanny," says Mkhize. If one wife cooked, another would clean, the other would look after the children. Wives and children also helped work the farms whose produce helped feed the family.

In fact, Mthembu notes, a bigger consideration was the risk seen in not taking more wives. For example, a man who would take one wife was seen to be risking continuing the family legacy. There were also concerns that one wife would not be able to give birth to enough children, sons in particular, whose prowess was needed in the battlefield.

Polygamy and money today

This practice may be increasingly difficult to sustain in the 21st century, considering how so much has changed in how people make a living and sustain their lives.

An example was demonstrated on Mzansi Magic's new polygamy show called Uthando Ne'Sthembu, where South Africans got introduced to KwaZulu-Natal-based polygamist, Musa Mseleku, his four wives, and their 10 children.

While Mseleku may arguably be the anomaly, the country saw that polygamy, at least in the Mseleku household, does not come cheap. Each wife has her own fully-furnished double-storey house, at least two cars, the children have their own designated drivers, over and above the day-to-day sustenance of both the wives and the children.

The businessperson agrees that it would be difficult to maintain polygamy without some financial muscle. He told HuffPost SA: "First character is needed, but without money, polygamy cannot survive. Money helps you manage it right."

Finances aren't the only consideration

Mkhize cautioned though that finances could not be the only consideration. The emotional strain polygamy can put on the whole family cannot be ignored, even in the 21st century. According to Mthembu, jealousy and bitterness are realities that polygamous families faced for a long time. And a polygamist must be emotionally intelligent and be able to fairly manage issues that are bound to arise.

Mseleku admits: "It is not easy. I am also daily learning how to manage the situation as my wives are only human."

Mseleku adds, however, that what makes it better is when it's a choice for both the man and woman, as he says was the case for him and his wives. "Sharing and competition then become non-issues," the 43-year-old man said.

Mkhize agrees: if you don't choose polygamy, it might be more difficult. But just because you choose it does not mean it's any easier.