Botswana, a small, landlocked country in the heart of southern Africa is often described as ‘Africa’s miracle’. Its diamond mines are the most productive in the world, bringing rapid development and political stability since independence from Britain in 1966. But for over thirty years, Botswana has also faced one of the world’s worst epidemics of HIV and AIDS. The government, local NGOs and international agencies have worked together to provide ground-breaking responses – including the free provision of antiretroviral treatment, nationwide – but HIV infection rates remain stubbornly high.

For over a generation, marriage has been increasingly hard to achieve in Botswana. This ‘marriage crisis’ is rarely linked to HIV/AIDS; instead, blame has fallen on new expectations of extravagant celebrations, and on traditional expectations of bridewealth payments (bogadi, paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family). But churches, NGOs, and government have cast marriage as a social and moral remedy to the epidemic. Recent years have seen a sudden spate of weddings, with younger couples negotiating marriage much more quickly and successfully than their parents’ generation; but many Batswana remain sceptical about what these modern marriages mean. Research has focused on the complex negotiations, variable practices, and the opportunities for disputes that wedding rituals and marriage provide.