The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Taking Valentine's Day for Granted

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Today is St Valentine's Day. Red, red clothes, with a scattering of black. Roses, red yellow, and white, outfoxing bees to the juiciest nectar. Teddy bears wearing bright red ribbons, scarlet make-over kits. Hoping we evoke the feelings of love, compassion, devotion.

Love is blind, hoping we go deaf even, and mute, partially, so that we can still say "I love you", "Will you be my Valentine?". And if not yet, say "I do" and kiss, in-front of the clergy and exchange those vows.

But where has love gone?

Why can't people live happily ever after?

They say love makes the world go round, but maybe it's from the wedding venue, family home round to the court for divorce.

In 2011, the High Court received 1 551 divorce cases, a 21 percent increase from the 1 216 cases received in 2010. Last year, Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa had to swear in four more High Court judges as civil lawsuits, that include divorce cases, had risen by 80 percent.

And for those marriages that survive the "storm", statistics reveal that HIV prevalence is higher in married couples than single ones. Marriage is no longer a safe haven. According to a report carried out last year and meant to update Zimbabwe's evidence base for the formulation of the Zimbabwe National Aids Strategic Plan 2011-2015 about three-quarters of HIV positive males and over half of HIV positive females are in unions.

So Valentine's Day should be accorded it's worth, and such feelings should go for eternity, if it is married couples, not to be a few hours' ritual.

Some would say Valentine's Day is more popular with the single, while others bundle in even those who are hitched. But the underlying line is that it's not all rosy in love, and marriages are breaking apart.

But the activities on Valentine's Day are so flawless, so passionate, so emotional, or is it mere lip service?

No wonder the H-Metro cartoonist, Knowleh (Knowledge Mushohwe), last week had this cartoon of two male friends and one is about to approach a lady and propose a date. And the friend holds him in a tight bear hug and whispers; "No, no no, wait until after Valentine's Day".

This could be down to a commercialisation of Valentine's Day, glossing over the fact that the day came because of the need to let love be expressed, at the pain of death, not because of gifts.

According to Wikipedia, St Valentine's Day began as a celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. The most popular martyrology associated with Saint Valentine was that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. During his imprisonment, Valentinus is said to have healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius. Legend states that before his execution he wrote "from your Valentine" as a farewell to her. Just in the same way people take Valentine's Day for granted, so is marriage. The reasons proffered for this unprecedented rise in divorce cases are relatively flimsy, if the sacrifice of Valentinus is taken into account. That people die for love. That people die saving the ones they love. That people put their loved ones before them and ensure they are happy.

Bells Florist shop manager Mrs Joy Makondo says that Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate love for couples, families and friends.

"Valentine's day is a time to cement relationships with one's loved ones. Couples, siblings, they should celebrate together and spoil each other."

She dispelled that gift shops were behind commercialisation of love.

"At Bells Florist we even have a flower for US$2. So we have gifts for all income groups and we encourage them to appreciate their loved ones in the way affordable to them. It's the thought that matters," she said.

Although more people are throwing their hats into the Valentine's Day ring, the marriage fabric is in tatters. The Bible names one reason that necessitates divorces, adultery.

Matthew 19:9: " I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." (NIV).

But the reasons being proffered for divorce are so numerous and flimsy. Some of the reasons are violence, drunkenness, adultery, financial recklessness, and personality incompatibility, economic inability to maintain the family, barrenness, desertion, illness, witchcraft, laziness, family interference, social neglect, social complexes, disappointment and dishonesty.

Council of social workers registrar Mr Makalima Mlilo was quoted in the media as saying economic challenges were pushing up the divorce rate.

"Financial problems are the root of most conflicts in families. Such conflicts lead to divorce. If there is no cash for food, school fees and other basic needs in a family, there is always violence," said Mr Mlilo.

In Shona there is the idiom "Rudo ibofu (Love is blind)". But it seems as if dollarisation has made love develop eyes. Another reason given for the collapse in marriages is the social and economic emancipation of women. It would appear as if women used to stay in marriage not because of love but dependency.

However, the Bible (Proverbs 31 v 10-31) says a woman should be industrious and feed her family, so her economic prowess should not necessarily be a divisive factor.

But no matter what the problems are, the spirit of Valentinus should guide couples through their rocky times. As philosopher Plato would say, "Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet".

Wish you a happy Valentine's Day.

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