23/01/2018 13:38 SAST | Updated 23/01/2018 15:31 SAST

Why Uthando Nes'thembu's MaKhumalo Is Probably Against Surrogacy

Turns out it's a rather complex cultural dynamic.


It was on the debut of season two of popular Mzansi Magic show "Uthando Nes'thembu" – based on the lives of polygamist Musa Mseleku and his four wives – that MaKhumalo, the third wife, shared her discomfort around surrogacy.

"I would rather love someone else's child like my own than have someone else carry my child for me. I find it too Western," she said.

READ: The Nation Stands Behind Uthando Ne'sthembu's MaKhumalo AKA 'Wife Of The Nation' AKA 'National Treasure'

Towards the end of the first season, viewers learnt that the 28-year-old had challenges conceiving naturally, owing to two operations that led to the removal of her fallopian tubes. The doctor then suggested in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and surrogacy as alternative ways to bear a child.

Two cultural experts explained to HuffPost why surrogacy, at least in a number of black cultures, is still very much frowned upon if a couple is struggling to conceive naturally – and why this view must not simply be seen as backward or regressive.


"Blood is strongly tied to [black] culture," said University of KwaZulu-Natal lecturer and cultural expert Gugu Mkhize.

"Hence the popular phrase, 'igazi lami' (my blood) and emphasis on so-and-so's bloodline."

Rituals that follow the birth of a child – for example, being introduced to its ancestors, ukugcaba (the practice of making two small razor cuts on parts of the body) – all follow because the "mother and father's blood runs through the baby's veins." In fact, the latter practice is family symbolism in some cultures.

The challenge that surrogacy presents is that despite the fact that the embryo's genetic material comes from its parents, as it grows into a foetus it survives "through someone else's blood" for nine months, not that of the biological mother. It is also assumed that it may carry the "spirits" of the gestational carrier, due to its intimate pre-birth relationship with the surrogate.

Blood is strongly tied to black culture.

This view also later received support from traditionalists who used the Bible to reject surrogacy. "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb," says the book of Jeremiah. "In whose womb? The mother's. Not someone else's [the surrogate], some have argued," says Mkhize.

"And that's where part of the complexity is. Then of course there's the double challenge of patriarchy and socialisation – through which men think the only way to conceive is through 'natural' means, and women agree and are taught that they are 'less than' or 'incomplete' if it can't happen that way."

"So for a strong traditionalist, or a woman more inclined to the cultural way of doing things, one cannot blame them or call them shortsighted, should they choose to forgo the surrogacy option, because their reasoning is informed by complex cultural dynamics," she said.

Before surrogacy and IVF

Traditional healer and cultural expert with the African National Healers' Association Kuke Mahlaba told HuffPost that there were other means children could be brought into the family if a couple had trouble conceiving 'naturally'.

"If the challenge was with the man, his brother or other male relative would be expected to have intercourse with the wife, so that the bloodline is not lost," Mahlaba said.

This was sometimes an open secret, added Mkhize, as some husbands would not officially want to know about the intercourse "to protect their egos".

In some cultures, the husband's family was seen as having a right to approach the wife's family and ask that he be given a substitute, if his wife was not be able to conceive.

"If the challenge was with the woman, it would be expected that the man would take another woman as a wife to carry children for him – again to preserve the bloodline," explained Mahlaba.

In fact, in some cultures the husband's family was seen as having a right to approach the wife's family and ask that he be given a substitute, if his wife was not be able to conceive. The substitute could be an unmarried sister or another female relative. This woman would become the "body" of the wife, and the children born by her would be regarded as being those of the wife.

"So it's not that surrogacy is just a Western concept; it's a fairly new concept in black cultures – who for a long time have had means of dealing with rare cases of infertility. But also no one is to say [surrogacy] is wrong," said Mahlaba.

"The issue of blood relations in the Western concept is seemingly unimportant, whereas with African customary law, it can be everything."