Change and continuity in Southern African marriages

Part 2: The material dimension: exploring marriage as consumption

Not marrying in South Africa: consumption, aspiration and the new middle class

Deborah James
Pages 1-14

This article explores how marriage, or its absence, features in relation to the aspirations and obligations of members of South Africa’s new black middle class. In a context where the state and credit have played key roles in the newly financialised arrangements of neoliberalism, it considers how ties that are both conflictual and intimate — bonds that simultaneously distance people from, while creating increasingly intimate connections to, both kinsmen and (prospective) affines — operate within this novel space. “Middle classers” are set apart from their less fortunate relatives, even as they continue to have to support and remain intimate with them; divided from partners who expect them to conform to conservative female roles, while they continue to hold positive views about marital exchanges (and payments) more generally.

Keywords: competition, democratic transition, marriage, middle class, status


The struggle for marriage: elite and non-elite weddings in rural Namibia

Julia Pauli & Francois Dawids
Pages 15-28

Namibian weddings have become lavish and expensive rituals. Recent studies have discussed how these marriage transformations are linked to late capitalism and the spread of modernisation ideologies. Much of this research concludes that marriage has become a middle class institution, rather detached from the lives of the unmarried, poor majority of Namibians. However, this overly dichotomous construction of the current situation fails to include non-affluent couples who marry against their economic odds. In this article, we want to shed light on this group and their weddings, locally classified as “struggle marriages.” We scrutinise how marriages are accomplished. Special attention is given to the role of kin in marriage negotiations and practices. Our argument is based on 18 months of collaborative ethnography in the rural area of Fransfontein in southern Kunene region, north-west Namibia, between 2003 and 2006. While anthropologist Julia Pauli was living in the community, the other author of this paper, Francois Dawids, got married. In this paper, we use his wedding as a starting point and extend our observations and reflections with additional cases and further ethnographic information.

Keywords: kinship, inequalities, marriage, middle class, Namibia, weddings


The tent versus lobola: marriage, monetary intimacies and the new face of responsibility in Botswana

Rijk van Dijk
Pages 29-41

While it has become common knowledge that in many parts of Africa — including Botswana — weddings and marital arrangements in general have increasingly become subject to consumerist desires of style and glamour, much less is known about how such expectations of public display intersect with changing ideas concerning the intimate. Weddings have not only become costlier than before, and much more crucial in the marking of class, status and prestige, they have also given way to shifts in the responsibilities concerning marital arrangements, in the provisioning of resources and in the taking charge of the glamorous styling of these events. Studying such marital arrangements in Molepolole, Botswana, reveals that these shifts are creating a new sense of joint responsibility among young couples in terms of their role in providing such (re)sources. They are also producing a new dimension in their formation of relational intimacies; that is, making their financial affairs part of the intimacy of their relationship not meant for scrutiny and inspection by family elders. Engaging an anthropological understanding of the ways in which money can be related to intimacies, this contribution aims to understand how taking responsibility for finances becomes an intimate matter in the wedding process.

Keywords: Botswana, intimacy, marital arrangements, responsibility, wedding tents


Part 3: The power dimension: exploring marriage and crisis

Marriage, kinship and childcare in the aftermath of AIDS: rethinking “orphanhood” in the South African lowveld

Isak Niehaus
Pages 42-55

In this article I consider the significance of marriage from the vantage point of children’s affiliation to domestic units during the era of South Africa’s AIDS pandemic. Drawing on multi-temporal fieldwork in Impalahoek, a village in the Bushbuckridge municipality of the South African lowveld, I suggest that AIDS-related diseases and deaths have led to the further erosion of marriage and to the greater absence of fathers in the lives of children. However, these changes have not precipitated a crisis in childcare. A survey of 22 households shows that orphaned children are generally cared for by related adults, such as matrikin and older female siblings. These arrangements are a product of a long history of improvisations, necessitated by experiences of oscillating labour migration. Moreover, they are facilitated by a diffusion of parental obligations, which is a central tenet of Northern Sotho and Shangaan models of kinship. I argue that in an economy of high unemployment and dependence upon state-instituted social security systems, marriage does not appear to be decisive to children’s welfare.

Keywords: Bushbuckridge, childcare, HIV/AIDS, kinship, marriage, orphans, social grants, South Africa


Rights, violence and the marriage of confusion: re-emerging bride abduction in South Africa

W.J. (Jaco) Smit
Pages 56-68

During the last few decades, South(ern) Africa has witnessed a steady decline in marriage. While the paths people take to get married are diversifying due to various challenges — mainly a changing economy and high bride wealth demands — certain formative steps in the marriage process seem to gain importance. In particular, what a marriage is and how it is constituted retains its high cultural value irrespective of the ways in which it changes and declines. Within this context, from more or less the year 2009 onwards, there have been allegations that bride abduction [ukuthwala] practices in South Africa are becoming more popular and violent than its historical counterpart. If these allegations are true, it contradicts the general trend of marriage decline, and questions the institution of marriage as a process of fixed formative steps. By asking the open ended question, “How should we understand ukuthwala-related violence?,” this paper seeks to determine whether ukuthwala conforms to the general marriage trend, or whether it indicates a new development in the evolution of marriage in South(ern) Africa.

Keywords: abduction marriage, human rights, marital violence, South Africa, ukuthwala