Picture for a moment the commotion that breaks out at a local Internet cafe in Gaborone. An elderly man, who appears to be in his 60s, loudly demands that the nubile young woman in the corner seat next to him should not use the computer. Asked to explain his outburst, the elderly man protests that the woman is engaged in a sexually explicit conversation with a white man on the Internet.
And because the young woman is using a web-cam, the man not only catches a glimpse of the person she is chatting with, but to his disgust notices that the white man is stark naked, and also appears to be in his 60s.
The woman, in her early 20s, defends herself by saying the man on the computer screen is her fianc├®, who intends to come to Botswana to marry her. For her, there is nothing remotely wrong with having an intimate chat with “my man”.
These days, this situation, a rare occurrence five or 10 years ago, is becoming something of a common site for Internet cafe goers. Thousands of dating and marriage web sites have sprung up on the Internet, promising perfect spouses for people who subscribe to them. Getting hitched on the Internet has become a growth industry, wooing a clutch of desperate young women seeking the exotic lure of foreign men ÔÇô especially if they happen to be white.
Common enough nowadays is the sight of a curvaceous young woman draped on the arm of a white man old enough to be her father. A growing number of these cross-generation couples find each other on Internet sites, insists Trevor Macheng, a Gaborone-based accountant. “Some of these men are old enough to be her grandfathers,” quips Macheng. “Sadly, many of these young women are no better than gold diggers.”
While some sites charge for the services offered, others like www.afrointroductions.com are free. Afrointroductions and other marriage sites services include pen-pals, marriage partners, flirting companions and phone sex partners. Also growing in number are Christian sites that promise to link up those with religious backgrounds and values. At the click of a mouse, one reads the many profiles of Batswana women and men looking for marriages spread on many sites. And as per advice from web-designers, profiles are accompanied with recent pictures for quick response from interested parties.
Among the many questions answered in the profiles include hobbies, education background, occupation, whether or not they would be willing to relocate and probably the most important question, a brief description of the type of person they are looking for.
Take for instance the profile of a Motswana widow from Francistown found on afrointroductions which reads: “I’m searching for that old-fashioned courtship and romance with a good clean guy who loves life and enjoys a good time. He should have a great sense of humour. Colour or race is not important. Age between 48-60.”
The issue of Batswana women finding love and marriage on the internet is a touch sensitive among those who would be considered prudes by those who consider themselves to be liberated.
“What would make a person go as far as advertising themselves on the internet to attract someone of the opposite sex? Are there no men or women in Botswana interested in marriage? Or is this just an attempt to catch the eye of a foreigner who to an average Motswana guarantees a better life?” wonders Pinkie Serato, 26, who defines herself as a normal Motswana woman with staunch Christian values.
“But what’s wrong with wanting to marry a foreigner and wanting a better life for myself?” counters 24-year-old Gaone Thebe, who refuses to give her surname for fear, she says, of being wrongly judged. She regularly trawls the internet in search of a soulmate.
“Why should someone even ask why? I am not a child anymore and don’t need to consult anyone on matters of the heart. On the internet I can meet several people at the same time and make a choice on who I connect with the most without being used or taken advantage of.”
She says those who dismiss Internet relationships are hypocrites because, after all, the same thing happens in the Voice newspaper which matches couples. “There you even find profiles of married men or women just looking for fun,” she says.
Thebe insists the only difference between the newspaper column and the Internet is that more people on Internet sites end up marrying foreigners, which is why there is a lot of talk on the subject of Internet dating and marriages.
She says many Batswana men turn down their noses at the idea of local women marrying foreigners, especially white men. She adds that it is time they accepted the fact that times had changed and women were capable of finding men who treated them better.
“I have dated Batswana men before and must honestly say that I wouldn’t date one again. I have gone with nasty experiences with all of them and don’t intend to fall in the same trap again,” Thebe says. Probed further, she reveals that the ‘nasty experience’ relates to issues of infidelity.
But what guarantee does she have that getting hooked up on the Internet will yield a man who will treat her better? Thebe insists that despite what people thought, Internet dating was the easiest way to learn about someone as the person on either end had no reason to lie.
“It takes a while for people to develop feelings for each other unlike when you meet a person on the street whom you may fall in love with instantly because of their outward appearance,” she says.
Thebe adds that every person who fell in love and got married risked their future security to some degree as it was not possible to tell what kind of a person somebody would become in future.
“I have my profile on two sites and if I connect with someone what can keep us from getting together? Haven’t we seen people change in marriage, husbands beating their wives and being unfaithful? It happens in Botswana why elsewhere?” She insists that because society is judgmental when it comes to Internet relationships, couples who meet on the Internet tend to keep their relationships in the closet.
But Zimbabwean-born Paul Ncube, a Pentecostal Christian insists no true Christian would put their profile on the Internet to find someone to marry. He labels the sites unChristian, claiming that the sites were created by people who wanted to sway Christians into believing that such an act was Godly. Any Christian intending to find a marriage partner needs to go about it the right way, thorough prayer, Ncube argues.
“When Christians want something, they pray to God for direction and at the right time he provides what is asked,” he says. “That is the Christian way of doing things.”
He says in a Christian’s life there were certain benchmarks that needed to be followed before one ventured into marriage. Before considering marriage couples need to be conversant with each other’s character. Moreover, they should get advice from church elders or pastors on whether the person they were considering to marry was right for them or not.
“But in Internet relationships, where does one make these inquiries about the persons conduct? How would you gauge that the person is not telling you lies?” he wondered. “Young people nowadays lack maturity. How do they expect a computer to match them with the person they are meant to spend their lives with? Marriage is about being with someone you know and can trust your life. Sadly, there is so much desperation among our young people today who have no idea about the concept of marriage.”
And 27-year-old Kopano Moeng says many women with profiles on the Internet were not looking for love but were after a comfortable life that white men could offer. She says instead of working hard to earn a living, many women were spending money chatting and sending e-mails to men worldwide in the hope that one of them will marry them.
“If you work hard for yourself and are financially stable there is no reason why you should be so desperate to get married,” she says. “Some may consider me prudish, but I think it’s disgusting that some women go as far as linking themselves to men who prefer to have phone sex as opposed to discussing real issues that affect two people in normal relationships. I see women having phone sex with men on web cameras in Internet cafes with no shame at all.”