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Divorce and the demise of apartheid

17 May 2012, 07:13

I recently got married at the ripe old age of 31, an age I share with my wife, barring about three months.

Both of us practised as attorneys at some stage in our lives, and hence both of us saw our fair share of divorces, especially during our article years.

The most interesting aspect I discovered, was that most of the cases I handled, was instituted by the wife, mostly aged between 35 and 55. This means that most of these people included the Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964), and early Generation X’ers (Born between 1965 and 1980).

Based on my own experiences, the Baby Boomers were comprised of, mostly, Afrikaans women, and the divorces themselves were generally far more hostile than the younger Generation X separations.

My own parents got divorced a couple of years ago, after 30 years of marriage, bearing the burning question...why now?

As most divorcees would know, the most common reasons for the end whistle are lost affection and adultery, the latter normally being a product of the former.

The conclusion I reached, was that people in the olden days, married too young, as most of the Boomers were exchanging rings in their early twenties, some even in their late teens.

It was only natural to get married at those ages during those days, as their parents had set the example, normally with one foot barely out of high school.

This inclined me to develop a theory around the entire situation, bringing me to the conclusion that the Mature generation, being the one before the Boomers, were far less educated than their children. They were generally far less well off, and it was the exception rather than the rule that went to university.

They saw two World Wars and a global depression. In South Africa, they saw the start and end of British rule, the beginning of apartheid and the industrialisation of their country.

They never got divorced, and viewed marriage as a partnership against the hostile world they lived in, explaining the high number of people my age who had, or still has, grandparents married for 50 or 60 years.

So where did it all go wrong?

Well, the world simply became a better place, negating the need to stick together to survive and bringing about the selfishness Boomers are associated with by the rest of the world.

In a South African context, and due to the conservatism that ruled in most Afrikaner families, coupled with the fact that the Afrikaner was a nation secluded from the rest of the world for so many years, the fall of apartheid, also meant a wave of liberated wives.

Post 1994 meant an age of upliftment for various cultures and sexes, and the dawn of Human Rights.

It empowered different races and white women to such an extent, that years of frustration in marriages, boiled over to the only remedy they knew...divorce.

They simply married too young, had all their children before 25, and now wanted to be part of the individualism the world granted everyone.

True, I am not blind to the fact that some people just had horrible spouses, who indiscriminately cheated, had drinking problems and were abusive (physically and verbally). These people took their lives into their own hands and escaped a life of misery through their divorces... if that’s you, big thumbs up for getting out.

However, for the rest, I have failed to find any of the, let’s call them liberated divorcees, who were completely happy, years after they said goodbye; something they’ll never admit  due to their own pride, and I include my parents in this category.

On the other hand, you also have the mid-life crisis men who bought a Harley, and got a pair of blonde breasts as an accessory attached to it. These guys are among the unhappiest candidates of all, yet they mask their failed decision with the illusion of being free from their mundane existence.

With a current world trend of around 50% of marriages ending in divorce, one can safely say that the Boomers opened Pandora’s Box; making divorce more and more acceptable as we go along. Most experts cite a lack of commitment, and a tainted view of what a marriage entails as a reason for this, especially considering younger divorcees.

In my opinion this just illustrates the fact that people my age now view divorce as a natural remedy to friction in a marriage, just proving that, although people wed later in their lives these days, they mostly lack the maturity to actually do so.

So what is the problem then? Are people marrying the wrong people, and for the wrong reasons?

Highly unlikely, as our grandparents didn't seem to have that problem.

People just don’t know what happiness means, I would say. It is this ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome that taunts the newer generations. The irony is that it’s not always greener, and do we end up longing for past girlfriends and wives after some years, only then realising what we had.

Personally, I couldn’t have asked for anyone better... a sentiment shared by my wife. Maybe it was the fact that we were older when we got married, or maybe it’s the knowledge that the happiness we have now, is a lasting factor only we can maintain or destroy...

What I do know, is that divorce is exactly like war. I experienced it on a professional and personal level (with my parents), and no one walks out better-off. No one wins a war, and few end up happier people after a divorce, especially after a couple of years.

Looking back at the wisdom we all try to sell, especially considering the criticism on marrying young, isn’t it contradictory to note that the longest marriages were when people wed the youngest, especially when you look at the Mature generation, pre World War 2?

The difference is vested in the times we live in. More freedom means more choice, setting the trend for marriages to fail.

The problem doesn’t lie with our time or surroundings, but with our levels of commitment. In a sense, our freedom had become our source of unhappiness, underlining the need for more responsibility in our decisions; be it to get married, or divorced.

So, did the ripple effect of apartheid’s demise start the chain reaction, and subsequent poisonous cycle in failing marriages in South Africa?


Your chance of divorce, statistically, is 50/50. Which half will you belong to, and more importantly, will you be happy with whatever your decision was, in 20 years time?

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