From colonialism to polygamy, to Apartheid and the sheer size of the African continent, Shelley Bradfield had no trouble capturing her audience’s attention with her presentation on South Africa.

Bradfield, associate professor of communication studies at Central College, gave the presentation as part of the Pella Public Library’s “Culture Night” series. Bradfield called South Africa her home for 15 years and frequently visits the country to conduct research on South African television.

The country, which is twice the size of Texas, is home to approximately 60 million people. The country was primarily colonized by the British and the Dutch, and Bradfield is a product of colonialism. Further, Bradfield grew up during Apartheid and remembers segregation signs.

“It’s phenomenal that for 50 years, a white minority of five million people could actually make legal situations here and rule over so many other people without their consent,” said Bradfield.

Apartheid ended in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela, giving the African people the opportunity to vote in the first Democratic presidential election. According to Bradfield, the African constitution is considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.

As a researcher in South African television, Bradfield explained how the television industry operates and provided an example of reality T.V. about a polygamist family. Bradfield stated polygamy is legal in South Africa, unlike the United States.

Additionally, 83 percent of societies throughout the world “permit” polygamy, according to Bradfield. Polygamy is most commonly practiced in Africa and is recognized as customary law, with 20 to 50 percent of marriages being a polygamist.

“As long as the practice of polygamy doesn’t remove someone’s human rights or take away some other fundamental rights stated in the Bill of Rights, they are free to practice it,” said Bradfield. “It requires husbands to treat all wives equally … women can also re-negotiate their position under customary law, so equality with men has been created, because women now have legal status.”

Bradfield also shared personal photos of animals, flora and fauna native to South Africa. Bradfield also shared photos of Dutch architecture that can be seen throughout the country.

Emily Hawk can be reached at or by calling the newsroom at 641-628-3882.

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