Kgomotso Matsunyane

The rules of engagement

2008-02-28 11:00

Kgomotso Matsunyane

It is leap year this year and for some unfathomable reason, it's the one time where women are supposed to be grateful for the prerogative to ask men to marry them instead (without seeming desperado, that is).

But the real question is: in this day and age, why on god's polluted earth would anyone want to get married anyway?

The present day South African family is so far removed from a "traditional" Christian arrangement, to a point where one is more likely to find an alternative family arrangement than any other. In a country that legally sanctions polygamy and where multiple concurrent sexual partners are the norm more than the exception, does marriage still have a place in our lives?

As a rite of passage, marriage was supposed to be the institution that guarantees that a couple take full responsibility for each other emotionally, financially, and legally. Historically and customarily, marriage has been a public and legal expression that legitimises a family unit, hence the hateful and outdated term "illegitimate children", and it also elevated the married couple into more serious players in society.

Emotionally and psychologically, marriage can make a couple feel closer to each other. It can also legally guarantee each partner a stake in each other's assets, away from interfering relatives with Rand signs in their eye pupils, especially when one spouse dies. In case of a future split, marriage has also been a way to protect children and spouses from being tossed aside without financial support.

Promises, promises

The biggest reason I challenge the worth of marriage is this: what people agree to in their vows and what is practiced outside the marriage are completely at odds. "To be faithful, for better or worse, to honour and obey, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, yada yada."

Well, that's a hell of an ask for someone you just met a few years ago, isn't it?

Perhaps the reason why so many of us are getting divorced (well over 50% of our population) is because the vows are unrealistic and in serious need of revision. Also, since earning power is now more evenly split amongst genders, the "need" to marry makes itself less obvious.

I certainly don't proclaim to know how the "rules of engagement" should ideally work. To much guffawing, our incumbent president has recently publicly married for a fifth time. So I ask, is it better to have five wives in the open, or to instead have one long-suffering wife and several makhwaphenis on the side (with kids, nogal)?

Two sets of rules

What annoys me most about the rules in our country is that they are incredibly chauvinistic and immeasurably favour men in this regard.

For a people that continue to be ravaged by HIV/Aids at such an alarming rate, you would think we would behave differently, but instead we carry on like fatalistic bunnies that don't know any better, swinging wildly through the concrete sexual jungle.

Mind you it's not just a South African phenomenon, but I think we have more to fear because of our high sexually transmitted infection rates. Recent Oscar Winner Tilda Swinson apparently lives with her husband and children in a castle in Scotland, and when she's working in London she has a younger lover that well, services her in that city.

Am I a hypocrite for rooting for her because she's a woman? Maybe, but unlike our future president she can actually afford her habit.

All I'm saying is, before you put that ring on, you may want to have an honest discussion with your future spouse about what your expectations are, because I think most of us assume that we share the same values, only to be sorely disappointed later.

  • Kgomotso Matsunyane is a divorcee and a partner at T.O.M. Pictures, an award winning TV and Film production company in Jozi.

    Send your comments to Kgomotso.

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