THERE is a generally held assumption that every adult person is married or should be married and have children.
Society, especially African societies, are generally uneasy with the idea of adult men and women who, for whatever reason, never got married or have children.
Permanently single, childless adults cause the biggest unease in African societies, yet there are many of them in every community and their population is growing.
In Shona, tsikombi is a derogatory term reserved for single, adult women and while senior bachelors do not have a label per se, they are not regarded any less kindly. It is whispered behind their backs that there is something wrong with them.
They are either HIV positive, homosexual, or impotent. Kinder people just say they are very difficult and complicated people that even the most desperate and that the patient of women cannot live with them. So, mature bachelors like single adult, childless women are deemed social misfits.
The belief is that no one can fail to find a spouse, so there must be something wrong with anyone who fails to find one or chooses to not have one.
It is commonly and erroneously believed that everyone wants and needs a romantic partner and that everyone will always find someone to marry when they want to marry.
Western societies are not completely free of these prejudices, but they are now less common than they are in more traditional societies like ours.
In many European countries, singlehood and childlessness are no longer an oddity, but are now just a normal lifestyle choice. It is more acceptable in developed countries than here that not everyone should be coupled, can be coupled, needs to be coupled or wants to be coupled.
The unkind whispers and pressures never stop for single black African people. The less well off are regarded as they are perpetual minors. No matter how happy and satisfied they may be with their single, childless lives society actually does not believe it.
They are deemed as unfulfilled people who are unworthy of the respect accorded to “proper adults” who managed to get married and settle down, even if it means in unhappy marriages.
Everyone from family, work colleagues, neighbours and passersby take it upon themselves to give free unsolicited dating advice and comments about their marital status as if singlehood is a disease that ought to be cured and they have the cure.
Single women are more prone than men to be advised to pray for spouses so much that the life of the average single African woman is one long prayer session for a husband.
It is believed that scooping a husband is the greatest achievement and dream for every black African woman.
Well-off mature singles are generally luckier because money is an excellent insulation against many societal ills, but what is whispered behind their backs is no less unkind.
Well-off singles are often believed to dabble in sorcery and occult practices to acquire their wealth, but that the juju formulas strictly forbid them to marry lest the money charms stop working. The juju theory is applied more to men because they are generally more well-off than women in society. For the women, the blame is usually put on demons and spiritual husbands (whatever they are) which are believed to possess women.
These jealous, viscous, invisible lovers repel real men from the woman so that she remains untouched for their exclusive spiritual sexual pleasure. The things one hears on African street corners! So the cure for spiritual husbands is exorcism and heavy praying to cleanse single women so that they can finally bag that elusive and much-prized husband.
Spiritual wives are less common for some unknown reason, probably because there are more unmarried women than there are unmarried men.
White people are generally more accepting of permanent singlehood than black people. On Independence Day, I wrote about the massive estate of the adventurer pioneer colonialist Cecil John Rhodes.
He died unmarried and childless, but left a very well-endowed estate which still thrives through his will more than a century later despite not having had a spouse or children to leave to. Had he been an African man, he would have been advised to stop it and get married after a pastor had exorcised him of his demons.
There are many men and women who remain unmarried and childless by choice or circumstance. Parents and society leaders have a responsibility to teach young people that while marriage is not a bad idea, it is not the purpose of life nor is it for everyone.
It is possible to totally fail to find a spouse or even a suitable romantic partner. The population statistics do not support the idea of one man for one woman. It is a romantic illusion that is not supported by the facts.
Efforts should be put through various social and family groups to help find suitable partners for those who want to get married but if they fail, they should be protected and not be made to feel like failures in life.
Those who do not want to get married or have children should be accepted and protected too and their energies invested more productively in gainful pursuits.
More black people than ever, especially women are living permanent single childless lives so the phenomenon is becoming more common.
It is a growing demographic. Most single people work very hard and live normal, respectable, fulfilled lives.
Some accumulate a lot of wealth because they do not have the financial and personal pressures of marriage and children but their lives and wealth are not invalid for not having married or had no children.
Single childless adults should be protected because they face all the normal pressures of life while simultaneously dealing with societal prejudices and their own personal pressures of loneliness, heartbreak, and social isolation.
When black African single childless people die their property is often free for all if they did not write wills and if they had no trusted friends or family to protect their interests. Legally their estates are claimable by their surviving parents and siblings, but if they were orphans and had no siblings their closest identifiable relatives like grandparents, nephews and nieces inherit it — the same people who whispered nasty things about them behind their backs at family gatherings.
Zimbabwean law is silent where they had no known relatives and if there was no written will. In such cases the property is called res nullius, ie it belongs to no-one. In such cases, anybody can claim it through prescription if it has been unclaimed for thirty years. The property can also be forfeited by the State is no one validly claims it.
Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer at Veritas and she writes in her personal capacity. She can be contacted on email@example.com and Twitter @MajomeMiriam.