The Problem of Divorce among Elderly Women in South Africa: The Case of Ga-Sekororo, Limpopo Province.

Author:Shokane, Allucia Lulu

Most African traditional indigenous communities expect older persons, especially older women, not to divorce and encourage them to stay in their marriages by telling them "lebitla la mosadi ke bogadi," which is loosely translated as a woman's grave is in her husband's home. This expression reflects the fact that divorce is discouraged; a woman should not divorce because she is expected to die in her husband's homestead.

Masoga (2005) posited that indigenous beliefs often define the norms and rules of society for behavior and expectations in a marriage. Bezuidenhout (2017) affirmed that social and cultural norms assigned to women place the onus on them to maintain their matrimonial covenant and family harmony. Women, especially the elderly, are often tasked with the responsibility of preserving the face of marriage even when they are being abused. These social and cultural norms are shaped by beliefs and values inculcated into the socialization process to bring honor to the family (Benokraitis, 2014). In this regard, Gammeltoft (1999, p. 174) avowed that a woman is faced with numerous responsibilities from a young age until her golden years. For example, as a daughter, she obeys her father; as a wife, she obeys her husband; and as a widow or divorcee, she obeys her son.

South African society, especially people in Ga-Sekororo village, Maruleng subdistrict, within the Mopani District of Limpopo Province, are predominantly grounded in sociocultural and traditional indigenous beliefs whereby elderly women are expected to put others' needs before their own in order to preserve the family unit. These sociocultural and traditional beliefs often compel women to observe an obligation toward the marriage. Traditionally, a woman becomes part of her husband's family upon marriage and is subject to the authority of her husband and her mother-in-law. Furthermore, many women have made vows in marriage, such as until death do us part. However, as Sakraida (2015, p. 225) pointed out, "Divorce has replaced death as the endpoint in the majority of marriages. Even if women can be blamed for divorce, it is logical for many of them, whether they are young or old, to remove themselves from unhealthy and violent relationships.


The study was conducted in accordance with the Sustainable Health Agenda, which focuses on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) beyond the year 2015. Thus, this article aims to advance gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. Furthermore, the study is compatible with the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development's commitment to promote the worth and dignity of all people including elderly divorced women (Jones & Truell, 2012). According to the World Health Organization, an elderly person is older than sixty. The needs and rights of older people in South Africa are maintained and protected by the Older Persons Act (Republic of South Africa, 2006). This act is intended to promote the status, well-being, safety, and security of older persons in South Africa. It is consistent with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (United Nations 2009), which is committed to undertake measures to end all forms of discrimination against women. Chapter 9 institutions in South Africa--such as the Commission for Gender Equality and the Commission for the Protection and Promotion of the Cultural, Religious, and Linguistic Rights--are also committed to advance and promote women's rights and their culture irrespective of their age, marital status, or religious beliefs.

The Impact of Divorce on Elderly Women

For some elderly women, the impact of a divorce is so significant that it is often compared to the death of a loved one because these women experience the same process of mourning that follows the death of a spouse or life partner (Sakraida, 2015; Schatz, 2007). Furthermore, Sakraida (p. 236) asserted that "divorce is a process defined as an event that changes relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles."

Elderly divorced women experience events that affect their health. Older women who divorce are prone to suffering conditions that include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, and loneliness. This is affirmed by Statistics South Africa (2014), which asserts that, because of their age, elderly women are made more vulnerable by the absence of family support systems. Furthermore, elderly women often suffer from poverty after being divorced. Makiwane and Berry (2013) also affirmed that, with regard to poverty in general, women endure a disproportionate burden of the outcomes of past policies.

Shokane (2016) and Howes (2006) emphasized that the elderly experience various losses, such as economic deficit; a decline in social status, friends, and abilities; and inevitable and often life-shattering changes in their health status. In addition to the effects of divorce, older persons are highly susceptible to other chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes and are often dependent on the use of chronic medication. Furthermore, the effects of these chronic diseases may result in inability to perform routine functions such as walking, hearing, seeing, remembering, concentrating, and self-care. Some of the pressures these women are subjected to include an insecure future and a variety of emotional, economic, and social stressors (Schatz, 2007).

After a divorce, most elderly female divorcees are left without support and are therefore unable to fulfil their care-giving responsibility to their children (Schatz, 2007; Schuler et al., 2004). This is significant in that, according to Makiwane and Berry (2013), these women, who are sick themselves, have the extra burden of taking care of sick adult children as well as fostered and orphaned young children who have been placed in their care.

Problem Statement

Various studies have been conducted on issues surrounding women, divorce, and abuse (Benokraitis, 2014; Bezuidenhout, 2017; Makiwane & Berry, 2013). However, no investigation focusing on why elderly women finally divorce their husbands after staying in the marriage for many years has been conducted in Ga-Sekororo Village. The mediation and reconciliation efforts at Ga-Sekororo village tend to focus on preventing divorce rather than protecting women from violence. The elderly women usually appear before a...

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