“I will never get married. My parents’ messy divorce was enough to put me off marriage,” Kgosi* exclaims as we ease into a restaurant corner for a chit chat.
His face doesn’t hide the etched distraught as he narrates the pain he went through when his parents decided to throw in the towel on their marriage.
“I went through a stage of anger, withdrawal and then eventually acceptance. It was difficult to accept that my parents, who had been together for almost 20 years, were divorcing,” says the 25 year old University of Botswana graduate.
He even tried to mediate but his efforts hit a snag. In retrospect, he points out that there were signs of an inevitable divorce.
“My parents fought and argued a lot, even about small things. They sometimes didn’t talk to each other. My mother often accused my father of infidelity and she made these damning accusations in front of me. It hurt me but I always pushed the pain aside and focused on my studies and social life.”
He blames these regular domestic fights on his spiraling drinking. “I drank alcohol to cope with the situation at home but things didn’t become better as I got myself into more trouble. When my parents divorced, I was about to write my final exams. I was surprised when I passed because back then I was like a ‘zombie’. The situation embarrassed me and I didn’t discuss it with anyone except my older sister.”
Kgosi has accepted that this is what his parents wanted. “I thought they were being selfish but realise it’s for the best as they both seem happier now. It’s painful to explain to some people why I only live with my mother…all of sudden.”
Throughout the world, divorce rates continue to increase at alarming proportions, ravaging homes, alienating children and eroding many people’s faith in the marital institution.
A societal eyesore, divorce tears apart even the strongest heart as family and friends grapple with the breakdown of what would normally be perceived as a strong foundation for a loving home. While divorce is often just statistics, it has a human face that affects many ordinary Botswana’s lives.
Findings of a case study conducted by the Central Statistics office indicate that high infidelity rates, lack of teaching and communication, interference from in-laws and financial problems were paramount in divorce cases.
Some married couples are known to have stayed together for the sake of the kids, as they put it. Children are seemingly more affected by divorce, but even the couples get affected by the proceedings because people don’t get married to divorce, but with hope that they will remain together forever.
This is the challenge that Tsietso Mosalagae faced in 2004. “Divorce was the last resort.
Even though my marriage was in shambles, I though we would work things out. Over time I realised that we had grown apart and would never rekindle the initial flame we had in our marriage. My greatest worry was how our children would take the divorce because I have heard that it can emotionally scar children for the rest of their lives.”
However, the unhappiness eventually became too much for him to handle.
“My wife shunned traditional duties and chased her career. I had no problem with her pursuing her dreams but I needed her time and affections. Almost every day she came home tired, took a shower and went straight to bed. I didn’t even enjoy my conjugal rights! We discussed the matter several times and she always promised that things would change but they never did.”
Stuck in a rut, Mosalagae informed his family and priest of his situation and course of action. “When my ex-wife heard, she went berserk. She was mean and turned our children against me. She called me names. Every time she saw me she hurled obscenities at me. She turned into a shockingly crude person.”
The two had a long custody battle after the divorce was settled. “I stuck it through and eventually moved to another town. She still has bitterness and sometimes gives me a hard time when I want to see the children.” Even though he filed the divorce, Mosalagae still struggled to adjust. “I was alone and at times felt like a failure. It didn’t help that my ex-wife was badmouthing me. I also lost many things in the divorce settlement but I am slowly finding my feet again. There are good memories but the future seemed bleak with that woman.”
Divorce statistics registered with the Lobatse High Court indicate almost a four-fold increase from 394 divorces in 1994 to 1172 in 2010, despite the remarkable growth in marriage guidance and counseling services.
“I never thought my husband would leave me. We had fall-outs but would iron out differences. However, one day he handed me divorce papers in bed. No explanation, nothing. I tried to talk to him but he just said he wanted out. He was behaving strangely. I informed both our families and an emergency meeting was called,” says Ludo Molefe.*
She sighs and stares into space. “He made it clear he did not love me anymore. I was broken and couldn’t eat for many days. I lost a lot of weight and was stressed. He gave me custody of our three children and agreed to pay maintenance for each child. The divorce settlement was a handsome amount but it is him I wanted because I still loved him. Being a divorcee at 35 was a nightmare. I felt like people were laughing at me. I shut everyone out and licked my wounds alone.”
Despite the fact that the divorced was sealed, Molefe didn’t change her surname. “During all this time I thought he would return when he came to his senses but he did not. Almost a year later he married another woman ÔÇô who, it turned out, was younger and prettier. It was only then that I picked up the pieces and moved on. Even thought it’s difficult, I believe that at 38, I will settle down again. Actually, I am seeing someone,” she says.
Some divorces do not have drama and are carried out amicably, as was the case with Micheal Sejeso. “My ex-wife and I discussed our separation and divorce. We had grown apart and saw no way out of the dead-end situation. After the divorce, my ex-wife, who was strong and rational throughout, left for America where she has a flourishing career. We have both moved on with our lives but remain good friends.”
The two, who did not have children together, married when they were young and he believes this played a role in their break-up. “We got married at age 21 and 24 respectively. As time went by, we both changed. We love each other but not enough to live together. At least there was no cheating, strife or any dramatics. It was all quite civil and grown-up.”
While Botswana’s divorce rate has gone up, the country has been experiencing a declining marriage rate, at 18 percent. The Central Statistics Office census indicates that women form the overwhelming majority of the divorced ÔÇô 86 percent compared to 14 percent of all men. While the fanfare of the wedding, whirlwind of a true love, walk to the alter breed hopes of an eternal companionship, sometimes not even the love and passion is enough to keep two people together. “Till death do us part” turns to “till circumstance do us part”, and lives are instantly changed.