In our digital age, word spreads like wildfire and private issues are being debated publicly. Dikeledi Molatoli ponders our propensity for hashing out private matters in full view of the world.
Even before there were cellphones and social media, people cheated in relationships, including those who were married.
Some of us, perhaps most of us, have siblings we don’t know of and siblings we’ve never met. People find out about these unknown siblings under different circumstances. The stories they tell are as varied as there are many human beings.
Besides men fathering children out of wedlock since time immemorial, there are also men who have unknowingly raised children who are not theirs. Hence the old Sesotho saying that “ngwana o tsejwa ke mmae [only a mother knows the paternity of her child]”.
Perhaps humans have always known that women are as capable of cheating on their partners as men are. Artists have even written songs about this reality. Ray Parker Jr sang: “A woman needs love just like you do/ Don’t kid yourself into thinking that she don’t/ She can fool around just like you do/ Unless you give her all the lovin’ she wants.”
We cannot, and should not, act surprised when infidelity happens. It’s important to mention that older generations, unlike ours, found ways of “protecting” children from the indiscretions of their parents/other adults. That is why at times we found out either by accident or from some malicious relative that there was a sibling who looked exactly like us in some other village or town.
Society has for centuries lived with the phenomenon of cheating. In the olden days and in polygamous cultures, it became naturalised or accommodated. Even when monogamous relationships and marriages became the norm, cheating continued.
The only difference was that society made women commodities of men, while allowing men the liberty of having multiple relationships. This was even built into marital rules, mostly enforced by women. This is why you find that a new bride is sat down by older women, before being handed over to the husband’s family, and taught the rules of sustaining a marriage, key among them being: “You must never ask your husband where he comes from, no matter what time of the night he arrives.”
Secondly, “never follow your husband around to find out which women he’s seeing”.
Lately, I suspect that they must have added to the list: “Never check your husband’s phone in case you find evidence of other women he’s seeing.”
I don’t know of a history of femicide, especially in the black community, as extensive as that we have seen over the past few decades. I think we must all ask ourselves why. What causes fragile male egos to propel men to want to kill themselves, women, girlfriends, wives and even children whenever they are cheated on?
Let us not forget that whenever women find out about their husbands or boyfriends cheating, they usually cry themselves to sleep or resort to fighting with the other woman instead of unleashing violence on the culprit.
Only in rare circumstances do you find a case such as that of Witbank mother Zinhle Maditla, who killed her children by feeding them poison because she found her partner with another woman.
The age of cellphones and social media brings pressure from all sides to publicise already complex human relationships for everyone to see our #LoveLivesHere. Everyone needs to know how happy we are in our relationships.
Obviously, only the positive parts of the relationship are shared for the world to see. When there are fights and tears, the world is shut out, never let in. It is called dirty linen. No wonder there is so much excitement and curiosity around conflict in a relationship, because people want to see the dirty linen too. You see it in the excitement that people derive from celebrity divorces and relationship splits.
A video of a cheating woman identified as Yolanda was recently posted online by her husband and has since gone viral. In it, the husband searches a back room, identifying things belonging to the family home until he lifts the bed and finds his wife hiding under the bed.
Had he caught her and the boyfriend in bed naked, would he have been so quick to post the video online?
It must have come as a shock for the husband to find his wife in such a compromising position, but what could he have been hoping to achieve by posting a video on social media of his wife cheating?
Surely his intentions can be interpreted as either to expose and humiliate her in front of the community, her family and her colleagues, or to solicit sympathy from all those who see the video.
The husband has definitely achieved the first, as his wife has been painfully embarrassed. She is the laughing stock of the nation, with hashtags and memes being created in her name. He has also received a lot of sympathy from thousands, if not millions, of people for being cuckolded.
But what greater mission will be accomplished? Will he find happiness? Will he feel like the winner in this situation?
What of the trauma that his children will suffer? If they are still in school or even young adults, they will definitely be mocked by their peers and others in their community.
While the video certainly evokes a mixture of reactions, including mockery when a person is suddenly discovered by their partner cowering under the bed of a lover, the point is that we tend to be too quick to focus on making a comedy out of other people’s pain and misfortune.
Instead of pausing to think about our own complicity in rubbing salt into the wound of another, we behave as moralists and holier-than-thous, hiding behind our Twitter and Facebook accounts.
When statistics say such a video has been shared 255 000 times, for example, you have to be ashamed to know that you are one of the people who shared it.
The Yolanda video – and others that are still to come and that will excite people to distribute – are an unfortunate part of our black community. We are a self-destructive people, much more than other races. Never have I come across white people laughing on Twitter or Facebook about a wife or husband caught cheating on their spouse. And it’s not like they don’t have their own sagas.
This is life, so the next time you find yourself making a mockery of a person’s misfortune, please remember that it could also befall you.
How do you feel about exposing infidelity on social media? Why do you think people are quick to react to or revel in scandals?
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- Molatoli is a director at Bamboo Seeds Communications