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Divorce as Process, Botswana Style

Customary Courts, Gender Activism and Legal Pluralism in Historical Perspective

Pnina Werbner and Richard Werbner

This article aims to unravel the complex negotiations surrounding property settlements and custody in cases of divorce in customary courts in Botswana today in the light of an earlier legacy of penalising divorce initiators. It argues that women’s attempts to get their husbands to initiate divorce proceedings can entangle women in lengthy negotiations and ultimately frustrate the aim of achieving a divorce. Repeated court hearings can last for years, we show. At the same time, in Botswana’s statutory courts today, an equal division of property irrespective of the causes of marital breakdown has become established practice. In the article, we aim to show that customary laws regarding property settlement in divorce have indeed changed, gradually adjusting to notions of equity in women’s rights in marriage, in response to a wider ideological, critical movement, even though chiefs or headmen presiding over customary courts do not always explicitly acknowledge this change.