BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Most Batswana children who were raised on a staple of fairy tales learnt that love conquers all, even the social class divide. They revelled in the “happily ever after” of Cinderella, the fairy tale young woman who was living in unfortunate circumstances that were suddenly changed to remarkable fortune when she married Prince Charming. They also shared in the delight of the poor miller’s daughter who married a king in the fairy tale of Rumpelstiltskin.
Then there were growing pains: No sooner did they discover that Father Christmas is a myth than they also realised that fairy tales only exist in children’s books and love does to always conquer the social class divide. While Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin gathered dust with old discarded Barbie dolls and plastic firemen toys, they watched everyone around them dating and marrying a mate from a similar background.
Fast forward to 2019 and cybersphere has spawned a fantasia of the Cinderellaesque dating culture which is blind to class in a society where the class divide is increasing.
A recent UNDP report revealed that Botswana has jumped two places from being the fifth highest inequitable country in the continent to being the third.
The report added to the growing body of evidence that in Botswana the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer in Botswana. A 2014 African Development Bank (AfDB) report revealed that at 61 percent, Botswana has the fifth highest level of income equality on the continent. This seems like a recipe for rancorous times on the dating scene.
The internet however has gotten the better of class echo chambers where the well heeled would be sipping whisky and champagne at cocktail parties regaling each other with stories of their uncouth and lazy gardeners and maids, while the down at heel would be guzzling beer at seedy bars trading stories about their snobby bosses. On the internet anyone can meet anyone, and nobody kicks up a fuss about cross-class relationships or marriages anymore. It is not considered overtly scandalous.
Ms Ogone Badisang a marriage counsellor in Gaborone concurs that dating or marrying up or down does not raise eyebrows anymore. She explained that, “social class refers to the grouping of individuals in a stratified hierarchy based on wealth, income, education, occupation, and social network (though other factors are sometimes considered). One’s position in the social class hierarchy may impact, for example, health, family life, education, religious affiliation, political participation etc. Education is a major component of social class, both directly and indirectly. Directly, individuals from higher social classes are more likely to have the means to attend more prestigious schools, and are therefore more likely to receive higher educations. Indirectly, individuals who benefit from such higher education are more likely to land prestigious jobs, and in turn, higher salaries. Just as education and social class are closely intertwined, stratification in education contributes to stratification in social class. I don’t think it matters in today’s age but back then social class used to be a big deal.”
However, even for the Utopian online classless society, reality always gets in the way. Once they have logged off and packed away their computer keyboards, the online lovebirds have to deal with real life bread and butter issues. We can pretend we live in a classless society all we want, but there are nonetheless a few inevitable speed bumps that come with mixed-collar relationships. Money is cited by most couples as one of the biggest sources of fights and stress. Navigating a relationship where your outlooks about money differ can worsen the tension of dating someone of a different economic status. Couples keep separate sets of friends because of their class differences, and many have trouble integrating into each others’ families. Couples also have different attitudes towards money, with lower-class partners exasperated by upper-class partners’ easy-come-easy-go spending. It can be hard to convey certain economic realities to someone who’s never lacked money. In cross-class marriages, one partner will usually have more money, more options and, almost inevitably, more power in the relationship.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says friends and relatives from both sides may try to convince the daters that they are not meant to be because there is a huge gap between them. You should hold the line if you’re serious about your relationship. If you and your date are not within the same social and economic class, don’t let your family meddle and discredit him or her. You may hear from them that he or she is taking advantage of your status. That is a stereotypical thinking and you should resist it if you’re sure about your partner’s intentions. Whenever you start dating someone new, people will always have an opinion, whether they tell you or not. The reason I say this is because it’s so easy to overly romanticize cross-cultural dating, because of the prominence of this whole “let’s run away together” narrative. Maybe it’s because the feeling of going against all odds and rebelling against our own cultures that bring this out.But it’s crucial to take a step back and learn about each other just how you would in “regular” dating culture.
Modiri Seloka, a driver at Agrifeed shared with Sunday Standard Lifestyle his personal experience of a class relationship. “I actually dated a rich girl once, I didn’t find out for months that she was rich. It really didn’t matter to me. After the fact, it didn’t change anything. I paid for all our outings, and was the one to usually buy gifts. All it did was explain her parent’s deep disdain for me; her mother hated me from the first time she laid eyes on me. In her eyes, I was of lower class I got the last laugh though, her hatred of me is what caused me and her daughter to date!”