Valentine’s mixed message
With the recent celebration of the day of love, Valentine’s has entered into popular culture, although in my day we knew nothing of its existence.
What I do know is that the days after 14 February are amongst the busiest at the customary court because of rows over ‘unexplained’ messages found on cell phones and accusations of cheating.
My case study this week takes me back to February last year, a day after Valentine’s, when I found Kagiso waiting at the kgotla with a burning issue.
This is his story
He had been living with Peo for 15 years and they had two children aged 10 and four years. He informed the kgotla that this relationship was well known to both sets of parents. He said Peo and the children lived with him some time, but most of the time they lived outside town where Peo was teaching.
Kagiso claimed to have been assaulted by the mother of his children but he was reluctant to lay a charge. He pulled out a plastic bag containing a torn red shirt which he said was confirmation of Peo’s violent behaviour. He further related that Peo had threatened to deny him access to their two children, and that the police had referred him to the kgotla.
I called the police to find out why they had referred him to us, and their answer confirmed to me that Kagiso was hiding something. The police alleged that Kagiso needed their help to recover a missing handbag as the owner was desperate to get it back.
Peo was invited to attend a reconciliation meeting the next morning. She came in the company of their four-year-old son and her uncle. Kagiso did not take kindly to the presence of the uncle, but for the kgotla it was just the right thing to do.
Kagiso related his side of the story, only now making any reference to the missing bag, whilst Peo waited patiently for her turn to address the kgotla .
She began by declaring that she was Kagiso’s customary law wife and not just the mother of the children as he had referred to her. Peo told the kgotla that after the birth of their first child, Kagiso’s parents did the asking of her hand in marriage for their son (patlo).
Fumbling in her bag she pulled out correspondence that supported her story. She further told the court that although the actual lobola had not been paid, the cow for tlhagela (damages) had been paid by Kagiso’s parents and a pre marriage feast had been celebrated (senyadzamolomo). She said Kagiso kept on postponing their date for the civil marriage at the District Commissioner.
Peo revealed to the Kgotla that 18 months back Kagiso had asked her to apply for a P50 000 loan to enable them to buy a car and to assist with the bogadi (bride price). This she did, although she does not drive, the car stays in town with Kagiso and he uses it to check on her and the kids at the village.
On Valentine’s Day Peo tried to call Kagiso to tell him of her intention to catch a lift to town, but when his phone was unavailable she came to town anyway only to find Kagiso celebrating the day of love at home with a woman called Rose. Peo confirmed that she had gone into a rage and started fighting Kagiso. Rose escaped unhurt but in the confusion she left her red hand bag with her omang and bank cards, which Peo had picked up.
Although Kagiso overpowered Peo, she managed to tear the red shirt he was wearing which she said was a reminder of the pain of him celebrating the day with another woman. Peo told the kgotla that she was remorseful, but was still angry and insecure considering the amount of time she has waited for Kagiso to take her to the District Commissioner.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
These were the facts we considered.
- It is true that Kagiso was assaulted and Peo’s behavior constituted domestic violence which took place in full view of their four year old son.
- Peo is not just mmaagwe bana (mother of the children) as Kagiso would have liked the Kgotla to believe, but a customary law wife without a certificate but with confirmation from the correspondence and the uncle in attendance.
- Patlo constitutes customary law marriage whether bogadi was paid or not.
Kagiso like many young Batswana nowadays was enjoying the comfort of having the woman he calls mother of the children, who even supplements his budget by buying him a car, and yet he is unwilling to be fully committed to her and the children as a husband should be to a wife.
He also seems reluctant to shed his single status and assume the role of husband and father where Valentine’s Day would mean loving Peo and the children, and not a supplementary girlfriend.
Peo on the other hand enjoyed the false security that her hand in marriage had been asked for (o batlilwe) and the process to finalise their marriage had been running, albeit it had been on-going for ten years.
Peo was pleased when the Kgotla declared her a married woman according to customary law, whilst Kagiso seemed disappointed that the kgotla elevated Peo above his girlfriend Rose. He would have liked to have heard that Peo had no business to appear unannounced at his home.
Peo was counselled for violence.
Peo’s uncle was given the responsibility of putting pressure on Kagiso’s parents that the long courtship should be finalized. It was advised that a customary law marriage certificate be obtained to confirm their marriage from the kgotla of their village to secure the rights of all the parties concerned.
In all this, Kagiso was waiting to hear the verdict on the red bag. I ignored it for some time until Kagiso begged that the kgotla should ask Peo to release it. The bag was given over to the kgotla and Rose was asked to come and collect her property. When she arrived she told the kgotla that Kagiso had promised to marry her and had never mentioned Peo and the children.
There are lessons to be learnt from this case. It seems many amongst the younger generation believe in long courtships that can extend to 15 years and beyond. But long courtship can provide a breeding pool for violence and gender based inequalities. They potentially open doors for children to suffer as in the majority of cases they use the mother’s name apparently waiting for the parents to celebrate a white wedding. This brings about double standards and confusion.
In the end Rose got her red bag back and Kagiso and Peo have since finalised their marriage process. I trust that the couple had a more peaceful Valentine’s Day this time around!
IN NEXT WEEK’S COLUMN MA MOSOJANE HAS PROMISED TO ANSWERS READERS QUESTIONS. YOU CAN CONTACT HER BY E-MAIL AT: firstname.lastname@example.org