Marriages hit 5-yr high as COVID-19 provides ‘discount weddings’

Happily ever after: The number of marriages rose to five year highs in 2020
Happily ever after: The number of marriages rose to five year highs in 2020

While COVID-19 and its protocols wreaked havoc on nearly all aspects of society and its norms, the requirement for smaller gatherings has helped more couples cut the cost of getting married. Recent figures from Statistics Botswana show that more than 6,500 couples tied the knot last year, the highest in five years. Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE writes

Culturally, weddings are the height of social extravagance and even community prestige, with couples and their families typically spending tens of thousands of pula in putting on a memorable event for guests.

By some conservative estimates the average wedding, conducted over dual ceremonies at the bride and groom’s respective home villages and involving the white tent, baemisi (bridal party), full catering, music, videography and other related running costs, can cost north of P200,000.

For Monametsi Molefe, 59, and her partner, the cost of getting married proved out of reach over the 40 years of their relationship. Molefe works as a maid and her partner survives on piecework. The couple, whose firstborn is 40-years-old, has been cohabiting since the 1970s. Today, they have seven children and six grandchildren. The couple opted not to have a civil marriage at the District Commissioner’s office, fearing that the lack of a full traditional wedding ceremony would reduce society’s view of their marriage. In January 2021, with the number of guests and other activities at weddings restricted by COVID-19 regulations, Molefe and her partner finally tied the knot.

“My husband and I have been dating since we were young in the late 1970s,” she told Mmegi this week.

“When our daughter was born in 1981 we had already made plans of building a family.

“Unfortunately, we had more children and ended up cohabiting because a wedding was too expensive for us.

“As we grew old and had children to provide for, the idea of getting married seemed impossible because every day our responsibilities piled up.”

Even though she always dreamt of being a ‘Mrs’ and wondered how she would look in a wedding dress, Molefe’s dreams seemed to fade away with time. The costs of becoming a ‘Mrs’ just rose over time.

Traditionally, the groom is expected to pay magadi (bride price) and the couple has to buy clothes for uncles, aunts, grandparents to mention a few. The couple also has to buy more outfits to parade in during the wedding and has to buy food to feed guests who often include members of the community not even officially invited. The costs often prove difficult for couples who also have to cough up hired vehicles, tents, décor, DJs and sometimes even renovate or even build a house for the family. Molefe said when the government limited the number of people attending weddings, restricted eating at gatherings and limited the time for those gatherings, they decided to take advantage of the COVID-19 protocols and have their wedding.

“We decided to use the little money we had saved to pay the bride price, bought two sets of wedding attire and bought snacks for a few people who attended the wedding, most of whom were our immediate family members.

“I am happy with the protocols because as old as I am, I finally had my dream wedding and can raise my children and grandchildren in a matrimonial home.

“I never liked cohabiting because it stripped me of my dignity as a woman.

“I hope the government would turn those protocols into law to make weddings affordable for everyone.”

For her part, *Samantha (29-years-old) said she met her husband in early 2019 at a friend’s party and they knew right there and then that they were meant to be together. The relationship was love at first sight and the couple quickly planned to have a future together. Once large gatherings were restricted, they saw an opportunity to have a wedding.

“We love each other so we did not see the need to be in a relationship forever,” Samantha said.

“It does not have to take a decade to know that you want to spend the rest of your life with your partner. My husband and I share the same values and dreams so we thought, why not marry since life is too short to wait and we did.

“The advantage of getting married in this era of the pandemic is, marriages are less expensive as you gather a few friends and family to celebrate with you.

“There is no need to spend on a lot of food and the numerous wedding attires that you would never wear again.”

Molefe and Samantha are just two marriages out of 6,518 that took place in 2020, the highest the country has recorded since 2015.

A recent Statistics Botswana report shows that the majority of these marriages occurred between July and December, after the easing of the initial lockdown which completely froze movements in the country. In fact, in the first three months of the year, 652 marriages were recorded, followed by 600 in the three months after that. Between July and September, however, authorities recorded 1,942 marriages and between October and December, which is the ‘traditional wedding season’ in Botswana, a total of 3,324 marriages were solemnised.

“The pattern of marriages by month of occurrence during the year 2020 took a different shape compared to the

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