When most Batswana imagine a happy marriage, they always picture a man and a woman sharing a home and raising children.
This picture perfect portrait of a marriage is changing. It’s the economy, stupid. The catchphrase coined by American campaign strategist James Carville for Bill Clinton during the 1992 American presidential campaign best sums up the changing face of Botswana’s marriage institution.
The most enduring image in a traditional picture perfect marriage, joint home ownership has been airbrushed out of the picture.
Wellington Mhembere, a lawyer at Jonas attorneys sums it up succinctly: The younger generation has changed the face of marriage.
As a lawyer he has dispensed advice to couples planning to get hitched and has helped clients navigate the complicated division of estate when marriages end. And he is adamant that having both your names on the title deed of your home is no longer necessary for a perfect 21st century marriage.
“The younger generation is exploring their options when it comes to marriage. They are doing things differently from their parents. Prenuptial agreements have always been there but were rare now younger couples explore them before getting into marriage this is because they make more money and essentially want to avoid things getting messy once and if the marriage gets sour. Nowadays a couple wishing to get married can change their marriage property regime to out of property, another thing which younger couples seem to be going for because in the past years when people got marriage it was in community of property. I think younger couples are approaching marriage in a smart manner, definitely different from how things were done in the past years but smart nonetheless.”
Mhembere is giving a legal take to sociologists’ observation that, marriage has morphed from an institution based on gender specialization ÔÇö the man earns the income and the woman stays home to take care of the children ÔÇö to a means of supporting intensive investment in children.
In a gender-specialized economy, where men and women played very different productive roles there was need for a long-term commitment to protect the vulnerable party, who in this case was the woman. But as Mhembere observed, both parties in the 21st marriage “make more money.”
Even lady Justice is keeping up with the times. Botswana amended the Married Persons Property Act three years ago to allow couples to vary to vary their property regime to in or out of community (and vice versa). The old Married Persons Property Act of 1971 was inflexible and gave too short a period for the validation of property regimes. The amendment took into consideration that the the property regime may become unsuitable as circumstances change.
Responding to the amendment, director of Women’s Shelter Lorato Moalosi-Sakufiwa said the law would be able to deal with the current challenges, some of which threaten the very existence and stability of marriages.
She said that even though some people enter marriages in good faith, the other spouse may be in it for the wrong reasons such as to benefit from the other’s assets. “Sometimes you marry someone who had nothing and later on fight to get half of your properties, which is quite unpleasant,” she said. In working with vulnerable and abused women, Sakufiwa said a lot of them have become victims of such circumstances.
A growing number of millenials are even taking the cynicism towards marriage a notch higher are putting their careers ahead of marriage.
Most graduate or at least pass through their first employment knowing what they want from life and being pretty sure about what they don’t want. Women in particular have started to relish the newfound freedom and empowerment that comes with having a career. Irrespective of gender, many find great personal satisfaction and fulfillment from their work, making marriage redundant. Some believe that marriage can wait until they have reached a certain pinnacle in their professional lives.
Tshepiso Koisitswe is in her 30s and has been married for five years. “When my husband and I decided to tie the knot I was in my final year of getting my PHD. I wanted to get school out of the way before plunging into marriage. He on the other hand was on the verge of getting a huge promotion at work therefore we both waited until we fulfilled our goals before getting into marriage, we didn’t want marriage to affect the goals we individually had. “
She says younger couples are now thinking carefully before getting into marriage as compared to in the past when people got in and figured things out later.
Odirile Sekgoma, a young bachelor who works at the Ministry of Education, says he is definitely not getting into marriage anytime soon. “I don’t see myself getting into marriage anytime soon, it is already hard enough to meet a decent lady but finding one and thinking of marrying them is a another thing. Marriage isn’t accorded the same respect as it used to be if anything it is being taken for granted. People aren’t monogamous in marriages anymore and don’t even hide it so such things put us the bachelors who would like to take marriage seriously off marriage.”