The debate around the high divorce rate in Botswana can never be complete without the interrogation of the influences surrounding the institution of marriage itself. Could it be that there is something wider, which is at play, which almost certainly guarantees the demise of any matrimonial union? To answer this question one must first wonder why the institution exists in the first place. For reasons beyond logical explanation, there are those who say marriage is ordained by God. They say, in His eternal foresight, He saw it fit that a man would be joined to one woman for the remainder of his earthly days. And this brings us to the very first influence on marriage. If what I have read and heard is correct, the main reason why a man and a woman came to be was to keep the human species alive, so that there can be a continuous supply of labourers to tend to the garden. In other words, God created Man to procreate so that Man can tend to the earth. And for the longest time this has been the basis of the institution of marriage ÔÇô well, the procreation part really. But, to understand this basis, you must first comprehend the idea of a God who has human qualities i.e. a God whose ego is easily bruised by Man’s insubordination. A God who can be vexed by both Adam and Eve so much that He pronounced; over their lives, some of the harshest punishments on earth, just so He can pacify His disappointment and anger. Would you not, just like Adam, blame Eve for eating the forbidden fruit just so that you avoid God’s wrath? Mind you, this is the same God who has created Man to be a free-thinking, free-willing being. A being that is able to adapt to even the harshest of environments. A being that is a marvel to all things created!
I digress, I apologise. But I imagine that you get the gist of my trail of thought ÔÇô that, the institution of marriage, at its nucleus, is about power, domination and control. This power, domination and control, is itself influenced by prevailing economic conditions. A lot of what follows thereafter is a mixture of cultural bigotry, fantasy and experiential conjecture. It is this combination of all these factors, which has influenced the standing of the institution of marriage from generation to generation. And you can trek right through these generations to understand the dynamics that influenced their decisions when it came to marriage. For instance, in Botswana, just four generations ago, the institution of marriage was mostly polygamous. This made sense because; the egalitarian system was a lot more about building fiefdoms and sharing in the burden of labour. This also helped in the aggregation of wealth and the streamlining of bloodlines. It meant something to have a large family that controlled vast amounts of resources, mainly land and livestock. However, this way of doing things was challenged and defeated by jealousy and greed. The women and their offspring would periodically fight over the control of the estate, thus ‘go nyala lehuha’ came to be associated with polygamy. And there is no way that any shift in any system, will not affect the overall standing of any society.
Which is why a generation after the one described above; we see a different approach to marriage. We now see a shift from polygamy to monogamy. Yes, the arrival of Christianity had an effect, but I posit that the conditions were already ripe for monogamy to spread widely. Marriage was no longer out of cultural hegemony but out of necessity. After the systematic breakdown of polygamy and (by extension,) of the extended family, men especially, needed someone to help them build and take care of their assets. A wife became just that. She became, for a lack of a better phrase, a serf with benefits, while the man remained the Emperor of his Castle. After-all, he was the one with the gold which meant that the wife would only bring her hands (mosadi tshoene o jeoa mabogo) and her body for her husband’s gratification (mongoe le mongoe o ja ee oa gagoe.) Mind you, up to this generation, the institution of marriage had always favoured men over women. Women were literally children, who relied on their husbands for moral and spiritual guidance. And that shifted very quickly, the moment the girl child went to school beyond the borders of this country.
Now marriage was no longer out of necessity but out of need for companionship. Now with a worldly outlook, the woman became more assertive in how she wanted to be treated in a marriage. She wanted a more amorous relationship with her husband. The husband could still be the head of the house but now he had to acknowledge that the neck was an extension of the head. And this was the animal the generation just before ours had to grapple with. All of a sudden men were stripped of their masculinity which relied heavily in the control of the treasury. Now, to get married they had to give up something in exchange. And to a lineage that was steeped to their eyeballs in patriarchy, this was something of a misnomer. It frustrated them and in their frustration, they became jarred and just outright disillusioned. Coupled with a very weak conflict resolution process, they became heavy-handed towards their women. And they bore us under those conditions!
And here we are. Unable to stay married for more than half the time our forefathers could. In fact, there are more couples cohabiting in our generation than ever before. This is because our marriages are now of convenience. It is convenient to be married. As a married couple you get more benefits, say at a bank, than if you were single. You do not necessarily need to be in love with your partner. For as long as your combined assets can raise your standing in society, all is very well. What matters is what we can both amass and if we are lucky, we will enjoy it until one of us departs this side of life. But in most of the cases today, we would rather let the courts divide our wealth for us and go our separate ways. Because we are now equal! There is nothing you have that I do not. There is nothing you can do that I cannot. Hell, I do not even need to be married to you to satisfy my needs. And guess what; personally, I am unperturbed by this. I am more intrigued by what our offspring will be like. It will be interesting to see how the thought to correct the disparity between the boy and the girl child, while disregarding the boy, will pen out. We have created a very sophisticated woman, but she has no peer of her own. For God saw that Man will be lonely without a companion. We Need An Economic Cooling – this is actually a title to my book.
*K. Gabriel Rasengwatshe is a business strategist, author and presenter of Gabzfm Business Hour, on Wednesdays, 6pm-7pm.