The ‘Small House’ Phenomenon in Zimbabwe’s Urban Space: Study in Glen Norah-Harare.

Alex Mutseta


The ensuing study is an assessment of factors influencing the establishment of the common new marital arrangement and examining the power dynamics within this form of marriage and the effects it has on the family form and structure in Zimbabwe’s urban space. The findings made herein show that inasmuch as the general beliefs constrains small housing, residents of Glen Norah are knowledgeable actors who act in contrast to beliefs. Everywhere in Zimbabwe’s urban areas, ‘Small House’ phenomenon is a topical issue and now it seems as it is difficult to envisage an urban set up without this phenomenon. ‘Small house’ is a marital practice which allows the extension of the monogamous marriage institution into a quasi-polygamous system, in a nostalgic cultural way, creating a new form of marriage between two ideologies, that of modernity, and cultural adherence. Structuration thesis was utilised as a theoretical framework. To meet the study objectives, qualitative methodology instrumented by semi-structured interviews and key informant interviews were adopted. Purposive and convenience sampling were utilised as sampling techniques. Findings show that most adults in Glen Norah are involved in the modified-clandestine polygyny commonly known as small house institution. Socioeconomic and psychological factors are attributed to the phenomenon as individuals have various motives in small housing. The small house institution has similar functions, roles and structure as those found in established monogamous families. The small house union is an emergent form of a family which is ‘fluid and a floating structured structure’ which also resulted from the interplay between ‘conflicting structures’ and ‘convenient agency’. Small House practice in Glen Norah has become a social common denominator as men and women across social strata are practising this phenomenon.


Small House Union; Structure; Conflicting Structures; Fluid/Floating Structure; Agency; Convenient Agency; Veiled Urban Polygyny; Monogamy; Ontological Security.

Full Text:



Altman, D. (2014). Sexuality and Globalisation. Journal of National Sexuality Resource Centre, Vol. 1, No. 1, 63-79.

Bailey, M and Kaufman, A, J. (2010). Polygamy in the Monogamous World. Multicultural Challenges for Western Law and Policy. London: Oxford Praeger Press.

Barnes, T. (1999). "We Women Worked so Hard": Gender, Urbanisation and Social Reproduction in Colonial Harare; 1930-1956. Oxford: James Currey.

Barth, F. (1969). Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organisation of Cultural Difference. Boston: Little Brown and Company.

Berg, B. (2007). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences. Boston: Pearson Education.

Berlant, L. (2006). Cruel Optimism. London: Duke University Press.

Bledsoe, C and Pison, G. (1994). Nuptiality in Sub-Saharan Africa, Contemporary Anthropological and Demographic Perspectives. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Bourdillon, M. F. (1976). The Shona People: An Ethnography of the Contemporary Shona, with Special Reference to their Religion. Gweru: Mambo Press.

Chavhunduka, G. (1979). Shona Urban Court. Gweru: Mambo Press.

Cheater, A. P. (1986). The Role and Position of Women in Pre-Colonial and Colonial Zimbabwe. Zambazia XIII (ii), 65-79.

Chodorow, N. (1988). Psychoanalytic Theory and Feminism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Christiansen, L. B. (2013). "Respectable Women" versus "Small Houses": Feminist Negotiations of Sexual Morality, Marriage and the Challenge of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol 39, No. 3, 511-526.

Chuma, M and Chazovachi, B. (2012). Domestic Violence Act: Opportunities and Challenges for Women in Rural Areas:The Case of Ward 3, Mwenezi District. International Journal of Politics and Good Governance., 67-84.

Chuma, M., & and Ncube, F. (2010). "Operating in Men's Shoes": Challenges Faced by Females in the Banking Sector of Zimbabwe. Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa., 123-137.

Commission, Z. C. (1999). The Constitutional Report. Harare: Government Printers.

Denzin, N, K and Lincoln, Y, S. (2000). Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: SAGE Publictions.

Dodo, O. (2014). Societal Conflicts: Marriage as a Conflict Resolution Mechanism in the Zezuru Culture of Chikomba District. Journal of Social Science for Policy Implimentation., 191-204.

Dube, R. (2013). Till Death do us Part? Marriage in Zimbabwe. Research Advocacy Unit.

Gelfand, M. (1973). The Genuine Shona . Gweru: Mambo Press.

Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Harper, W. M. (1991). Statistics. New York: McDonald and Evans Limited.

Hillman Eugene, C. S. (1975). Polygamy Reconsidered. New York: Orbis Books.

Hunter, M. (2004). Masculinities and Multiple Sex Partners in KwaZulu-Natal: The Making and Unmaking Isoka. Transformation, 123-153.

Jary, D and Jary J. (1999). Dictionary of Sociology. Glasgow: Harper Collins Publishers.

Karanja, W. W. (1994). The Phenomenon of 'Outside Wives'. Some Reflections on its Possible Influenceon Fertility. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kenyatta, J. (1965). Facing Mount Kenya. London: Mercury Books.

Liaw, K and Hayse, Y. (1997). Factors on Polygamy in Sub-Saharan Africa: Findings Based on the Demographic and Health Survey. Developing Economies, 293-327.

Machingura, F. (2011). A Diet of Wives as the Lifestyle of the Vapostori Sects: The Polygamy Debate in the Face of HIV and AIDS in Zimbabwe. International Theological , 134-149.

Mararike, C. G. (1999). Survival Strategies in Rural Zimbabwe. Harare: Mond Books.

Mbiti, J. S. (1973). Love and Marriage in Africa. Harlow: Longman Group Limited.

Moore, E and Govender, R. (2013). Marriage and Cohabitation in South Africa: An Enriching Explanation? Camparative Family Studies, 167-181.

Moore, H, L and Sanders, T. (2001). Magical Interpretations, Material Realities: Modernity, Witchcraft and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa. London: Routledge.

Mukonyora, I. (2007). Wandoring a Gendered Wilderness: Suffering and Healing in an African Initiated Church. New york: Peter Lang Publshing.

Mushinga, M. (2013). Politics of Sexual Economics: Situating the "Small House" in Zimbabwe. Harare: SAPES Seminar.

Musick, K and Bumpass, L. (2007). Re-examining the case for Marriage: Union Formation and Changes in Well Being. Marriage and Family, 132-150.

Muzvidziwa, V. N. (2002). An Alternative to Patriarchal Marriage: Mapoto Unions. Nordic Journal of African Studies., 138-155.

Nyamnjoh F, B. (2005). Fishing in Troubled Waters: Disquettes and Thiofs in Dakar. Dakar: Work Press.

Oppong, C and Abu, K. (1987). Seven Roles of Women: Impact of Education, Migration and Employment on Ghananian Mothers. Geneva: I. L. O.

Ramphele, M. (Cape Town). A Bed Called Home: Life in Migrant Labour Hostels of Cape Town Ohio. Ohio Press.

Russell, M. (2003). Are Urban Families Nuclear? A Comparative Study of Black and White South African Family Norms, Social Dynamics. African Studies, 153-176.

SAFAIDS. (2009). Multiple Concurrent Partnerships: The Story of Zimbabwe. Are Small House a key Driver? Harare: SAFAIDS.

Suda, C. (1996). The Centrality of Women in the Moral Teachings in African Society. Nordic Journal of African Studies., 71-83.

Togarasei, L. (2009). The Shona Bible and the Politics of Politics of Bible Translation. Studies in World Christianity, 119-136.

White, L. (1990). The Comforts of Home. Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi. Chicago: Chicago Press.

Wilson, E. (1978). On Human Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Zeihl, S. (1994). Globalisatio and Family Patterns: A View from South Africa. Goteberg: Kainstitutet Press.

Zeitzen, M. K. (2008). Polygamy: A Cross-Cultural Analysis. Oxford: Berg Press.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Open Science Journal (OSJ) is multidisciplinary Open Access journal. We accept scientifically rigorous research, regardless of novelty. OSJ broad scope provides a platform to publish original research in all areas of sciences, including interdisciplinary and replication studies as well as negative results.