Wednesday, July 6, 2022

When ‘marriage’ is not all it’s cut out to be

A few weeks ago, the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Edwin Batshu, spoke of how his office is inundated by a bevy of frustrated and broken-hearted women seeking revenge for romances gone sour.

At the time, Batshu warned local women against falling for men who claim they love them while all they want is to acquire Botswana citizenship. Batshu confirmed that many Batswana women are flooding his office seeking to have their foreign husbands deported after realising they had been fooled and led down the garden path.

Apparently, many Batswana women marry foreign nationals they meet on social networks but the men dump them after acquiring Botswana passports and Omang. Batshu was, however, quick to assert that he doesn’t discourage marriage to foreigners but warned locals to “be careful”.

Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa are all battling a tide of fake unions with women crying foul after they realise they have been tricked. However, some women knowingly partake in these unions, sometimes lured by the money offered to them or even love, trying to save their partners from possible deportation.

Neighbouring South Africa’s Department of Home affairs officials estimate that almost 7 000 South Africans knowingly concluded marriages of convenience over the past four years.

A marriage of convenience, whether in Europe, America or Africa, is almost always difficult to define, especially as these partners provide affection, money, food and a roof over the head for their partners.

How then can one question the sincerity in such a case?

Marriage has often been given a whirlwind fairy tale perception. Think boy meets girl, they fall in love, court, date and over time are committed and eventually get married, then live happily ever after, babies and all.

This seems the reality in movies, soapies and romance novels, but truth is, the twists and turns can be more disheartening.

And unlike in romance depictions were reunions are the norm, in real life, enemies are made, and people who were once lovers and swore to be together “till death do us part”, fight in court.

The emergence of fake marriages has seen such promising relations souring and many people, especially women, hurting to the point of appearing like a wilted flower upon realising they were pawns in an unsavoury game of gain and lose. On the other hand, marriages for mercenary gain, which have become the norm nowadays, have always existed.

There was a time in most cultures when young women were promised in marriage to affluent grooms without having a say, as their parents benefited materially or financially from these transactions.
Marriage is not only an emotional and sexual union, but an economic one for both the spouses, and in many cases, families.

However ‘gain’ can come in opportunistic forms for a small thing like citizenship.

When Andrew Chokota, a Zimbabwean national, married a local woman, he could sense the apprehension from her relatives and friends.

“Some of my homeboys married locals to get citizenship but I genuinely love my wife Gaone. We met in a train from Gaborone to Francistown many years ago,” Chokota says beaming.

“She was suspicious and cold at first but I proved my life to her. Because I loved her, I did all I could to show her and her family that I was serious. I paid the ten heads of bogadi cattle they wanted, bore the cost for the wedding and supported her when she lost her job. Twelve years later with three children aged nine, six and three, we are still together and happier than ever. People don’t bother us because they realize that ours is a love made in heaven.”

Laone Motlagole, 29, once fell in love with a Nigerian man she met on an online dating site.
“He sounded like a dream. He told me he was currently in South Africa on a work project and would visit me in Botswana. From what I gathered, he was a businessman dabbling in mining. He was very interested in business opportunities in the country, and enquired a lot about the economic climate.

We moved from communicating via the site to exchanging emails and phone numbers. He would call and we would chat for a long time, and since I was so charmed, I eventually fell in love. He sounded like a loving and genuine man, just what I needed after several failed relationships. I had given up on our local men and thought, ‘Why not try my luck with someone of a different culture with a varied outlook on life?’ I wasn’t disappointed because he made me feel like a queen!”

A few months later, her new lover arrived in Botswana and she went to pick him up at the airport. It was meant to be a weekend visit but it extended as they enjoyed each other’s company.

“At first he stayed in a hotel but two days later, he was living at my house because he often left late in the night anyways. He spent his days visiting malls and sightseeing while I was at work. In the evenings we had long conversations about our upbringing and plans for the future. I was impressed by his level of ambition, intelligence and business acumen.”

Her friends and relatives were, however, unhappy with this development.

“Although unspoken of, there is a lot of xenophobia in our country and I could sense that amongst some people in my social circles. Because my new partner was a Nigerian, it was assumed that he was after a marriage or was a drug peddler or a dodgy character…I, for one, saw no reason to question his motives as he was attentive, loving and financially independent.”

Although their whirlwind romance lasted a few months, with promises of marriage, Laone admits there was intense pressure on all fronts.

“My friends would come to me with scary stories about women who got married to foreigners and were left in the lurch. My own family members also stopped speaking to me. It was a challenging time for me and it affected my relationship. Eventually my boyfriend decided to return to South Africa, after two months. We communicated for a few weeks thereafter but communication soon stopped. I was too proud to ask why but once I garnered the courage to contact him a month ago, he informed me that he was now married. He seemed happy to hear from me but he has clearly moved on. I never asked who, or where she was from….I feel like it would have been me, here I still am, unmarried…”

Where the law stands, when marriages where both parties enter into an agreement to marry are legal, officials have no power to question the duo’s intention, or suspect or even investigate an exchange of status, security or identity fraud.

Officials cannot extend their duty to being watchdogs over marriages. There are certainly fair policy considerations for government to pursue, in line with considering that Botswana resources aren’t abused; and locals are protected. But, as expected, a careful line must be trod in order to avoid dictating what constitutes a valid marriage.


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