Marriage vows and broken dreams
Call me old fashioned but there is evidence that the disciplined social order of the older generation that penetrated human relations provided an element of protection and safety to women and children.
No doubt the perception that it is ‘love that makes the world go round’ is as prevalent now as in the ‘old days,’ it is just that nowadays the desire to be loved and nurtured has made young and vulnerable women more likely to fall victims to men who are determined to use and abuse them.
Modern day Botswana provides a lot of self-help and economic empowerment programmes, but there is not much to assist young people in handling relationships.
The promise of marriage declared in whatever language and in whatever circumstances is always music to the ear of a woman – a fact not lost on men who use it as a formula for deceit.
Let me take you to the kgotla situation where I will share Thandi account of betrayal and broken promises.
The young lady was visibly upset as she began her story. She told how she had started dating Phinda, a man 20 years her senior.
As they got to know each other it made sense to manage the distance between their homes by living together, and so she moved into the man’s house. Besides it was bigger and they could use one transport to get to work.
It was just a few months into their relationship when Thandi first heard the magic words, “Motho ke bonye wena baby, ke a go nyala” – meaning: “You are the one for me and I will marry you.” This promise was repeated in many forms via SMS, Internet and word of mouth. Conversations were interspersed with phrases such as, “When we get married or by the time we get married,” and soon she was receiving messages of congratulations from friends.
One evening as Thandi and Phinda talked over some of the obstacles that seemed to delay the big day, Phinda mentioned some projects that needed to be financed and declared that he had over borrowed through banking institutions. Thandi who believed that she had almost become a wife, saw no reason why she shouldn’t obtain a loan to assist her ‘prince charming’ so that their big day could be fast forwarded.
With modern day instant loans Thandi was able to get P90 000, which would definitely over stretch her financially, but with free accommodation and free transport she could just about survive. 70% of the money went into hands of Phinda and he worked on his projects with Thandi’s participation as a wife to be.
As fate would have it, Thandi detected some altered patterns of behaviour from her fiancé just a few months after the financial aid was given. She overheard conversations with female ‘friends’ at the same times as Phinda started to play the game of coming home after midnight.
This resulted in some small and seemingly insignificant quarrels, but a few weeks later her man suddenly turned on her and announced that she had to move out since she had become an ‘inconvenience’ to him. On top of this bomb blast he also told her for the first time that he had three grown up children whose visiting rights had been disturbed by their staying together.
For a while Thandi dismissed his behaviour as that of a ‘grumpy old man,’ but when he persisted with the theme that he would like to have some space between them, she realised that the ‘writing was on the wall’ as far as their marriage union was concerned.
After listening to Thandi’s story, I invited Phinda to come for reconciliation and he arrived on the appointed day and time.
Thandi tearfully repeated her story in his presence, but the older man seemed unmoved by the young lady’s sorrowful lament, and even went on to arrogantly cross examine her as follows:
Question: Are you aware that you have not been buying food in my house?
Answer: Yes that was the agreement.
Question: Did I ask you to take the loan?
Answer: No you did not but I thought….(at this point her tears wiped away any further conversation)
Triumphant Phinda simply reminded Thandi that she had lived off him without paying rent, electricity bills, water bills, petrol and car maintenance, and that their living together had indeed inconvenienced his grown up children.
Asked if he felt indebted to Thandi at all, Phinda said yes and no. He implied that Thandi had ‘gambled’ on marriage, and if she had lost it was not his fault.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
It was difficult to remain impartial as I considered the arguments.
For a start Thandi had subjected herself to gross economic abuse by an elderly man who calculatingly made an empty promise to marry her.
Thandi was confident that this mature man, who was not only a social giant but also a political heavyweight, could not play such ugly games with her.
Thandi could only depend on Phinda’s good will to acknowledge his indebtedness to her since there was no evidence of the financial transaction.
Thandi had thought that their age difference was an asset in the relationship, but she got the shock of her life to realize that Phinda was kicking her out of his life for an even younger woman.
I had also to admit that Phinda’s submission that Thandi had benefited from the relationship was equally true.
At the end of the reconciliation process the parties were referred to another government office to be assisted as the amount far exceeded the warrant of the customary court. The reconciliation exercise was merely to assist them come to an agreement about the issue.
There is a powerful warning to young women out there especially as we commemorate the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence.
- The promise to marry in customary law is treated as nothing unless it is followed through by Patlo (the formal asking for a wife).
- It is common sense that all financial transactions between mature and streetwise individuals should be done through written and witnessed agreements. As a matter of fact even when patlo and bogadi are done, financial transactions must be handled with care between individuals. The good heartedness of the illiterate older generation who lived to honour the verbal word has since died with them and we now have people who require a finger print expert to bring a conviction against them.
- Cohabitation has left many individuals permanently scarred because it is only a shadow of the real thing. Many parties to it have been left dumped by the wayside if the other party decides to move on.
There is a saying that warns people to ‘watch their backs,’ but in this case I want to say ‘watch your front’ because it is the people who hug and kiss you whose cuts go deep when they decide that the purpose of your life in theirs is over.