You might have heard me in a panel discussion on national radio last week in a series of stimulating and at times heated debates on marriage.
Actually the discussions were more about the shocking divorce statistics and exploring how the institution of marriage has changed in recent times.
An evolution that has for example witnessed a shift from arranged marriages that in the past even forced young girls to abandon learning in order to fulfilthe role of being a wife and mother.
This in sharp contrast with modern day marriages, which are we imagine about romance, but which in turn have also become easily disposable because of the pressures and challenges that individuals encounter in this very difficult journey of assumed oneness in Holy Matrimony.
The other value shift in modern day Botswana is that the elderly are struggling to come to terms with the reality of disposable marriages, seen by such casually maderemarks as: (Re itsemosadiwantlha le banababagagwe) meaning, ‘We only acknowledge the first wife and her children.’
This usually annoys the sitting wife and her children who actually had nothing to do with the break up of the first marriage.
Then there is another ghost from the past that manifests itself at weddings when the elderly men are supposed to counsel the newly wed groom.
They have been heard to say things like:Monnagaanne a labile mosadimomatlhong, meaning, ‘Do not spend time admiring the face of your wife,’ and in Ikalanga:Nkadziidandawapindaunokoodza, meaning, ‘A woman is a dry piece of log that any passer-by can knock on.’
And so to this week’s columnin which I would like to discuss the two faces of infidelity,a burning issue that seems to stifle the life out of many marriages.
At the customary Court we encounter a woman who desperately needed a solution concerningMpote, who had moved just three streets away to live with another woman.
He would only come home to change clothes and as a matter of fact had moved half his wardrobe to the home of the ‘other’ woman. It did not bother this man that his car was seen 24/7 at his girlfriend’s place.
Parents had met and discussed the matter until they gave up and referred the wife to the kgotla and District Commissioner’s Office.
The most depressing aspect was that he would take his mistress to the cattle post and slaughter a goat and enjoy himself there to the exclusion of Onty – the wife he had vowed to forsake all other for, and from which only death could part him.
The Customary Court set up a date to attempt to get to the heart of this matter in the presence of their parents.
Onty related how for over two years her husband had displayed a carefree attitude towards her and their two children.
He occasionally made an appearance at home if he got a message that the children were unwell, but his role as a father had become confined to dropping off groceries when he felt like it, and picking the kids up for once in a while ice cream and swimming treats.
This attitude had frustrated Onty, who resolved to make her husband pay for his insensitive behaviour.
Once she had related her painful story, her father in law stood up to ask questions.
Question: Who is paying for the car you drive?
Onty: My husband.
Question: What about the mortgage of the house you live in?
Onty: It is my husband (the affirmation is followed by a sarcastic smile)
Question: Jaanongmodumooo kana kanakewaengosannefelawagodisabana – ‘What makes you bring this great trouble about instead of paying attention to raising your children? (In the background Mpote nods his head in appreciation of his uncle’s astute observation)
Ontynow requested to address the kgotla.
She had dressed very carefully ensuring that her appearance would at least hide the pain and anger within her heart.
She cleared her voice and told all present that she married for love, not as the means to a meal ticket, and had a right to expect her husband’s attention and affection and his presence alongside her on the matrimonial bed.
She finished her address by saying that if her husband did not see the harm he haddone to her and the children, the only solution would be to file for divorce.
At this a murmur of disapproval sounded from the parent body, but undaunted Ontydeclared that if divorce were the only means of ending her trauma, then she would go for it.
Earlier shehad produced SMS messages as evidence of name-calling and ridicule from the mistress of her estranged husband.
What would you do if you were the judge?
Amongst the points to consider in this all too familiar story is that Mpote had boldly taken up residence at his mistress house, and that he felt no guilt about it or its effect on the innocent children who were missing him.
There appeared to be no remedy at hand to deal with Mpote’s arrogance and assumption that there should be no blame attached to his actions.
The parents too have a simplistic view that marriage is about provision and anything over and above that the wife must accept withstoic endurance. An attitude that did not sit comfortably with Onty’s insistence that Mpote’sconduct was not what she expected from the script they both read from when they took their wedding vows.
In bestowing the traditional wisdom the court had to offer it was impressed upon Mpote that his behaviour was completely unacceptable.
Sadly when it was proposed that he should stabilize it by giving his wife and children the benefit of his love and presence, the suggestionwas met with an irritated shake of his stubborn head.