As I unpack every case study I am hoping that attitudes will be shaped by the knowledge I share. Every society needs a moral compass that directs its path to positive growth and peace. Family life is one of the most battered areas of our lives and I will illustrate how as I take you one more time to the kgotla scenario.
We are emerging from a social order where customary marriage was just complete as it was. Customary marriage could mean just patlo (the agreement between two parties and the giving of a young lady in marriage) It could also mean nkumbo – the Kalanga tradition of leaving of P2 (now P100) under the blankets as a young man eloped with his lover to begin a new life. Either way, the bottom line was that the lovers declared their intention to settle and raise a family.
Modern day Batswana are trapped into believing that there are three steps to be completed before marriage is concluded i.e. Patlo, bogadi, pholoso or kgoroso. Let us go into this week’s case study to explore further.
Moepi and his parents were already waiting as I opened my office. The young man and his relatives had come to report the disturbing behaviour of his in-laws following the death of his wife.
It emerged that Moepi had been in a relationship for 12 years. He had done patlo, paid bogadi and had two children who were living with their maternal grandparents but would visit him during school holidays. Moepi was still saving to buy the platinum wedding band his wife had set her heart on and also to raise enough money for a wedding gown to be cut in Johannesburg. As fate would have it during the long wait Moepi’s wife (Lephoi) met someone and declared that the affair was over. Moepi tried to impress upon his wife that theirs was not an ‘affair’ to be ended just like that, and since they were married she could not simply announce her desire to move on. It was during this period of argument that Lephoi tragically died in an accident.
Moepi took it upon himself to give his wife a decent burial, but there was confusion as now there were two chief mourners at the funeral. Lephoi’s parents had already been introduced to Kgopa – the new man in her life. They kept on making it clear to Moepi (o diegile go chata) pointing out that he had delayed in finalising the marriage through the District Commissioner’s Office.
After Lephoi’s burial Moepi requested a meeting of the parents and made it clear that he would like to take his children. Lephoi’s parents made it equally clear that they would not allow their grandchildren to be taken. In the middle of it all Lephoi’s brother arrived from a drinking spot in the neighbourhood. He picked up an axe and forced the meeting to disperse unceremoniously as people scrambled for cover.
After being informed of the facts, I summoned Lephoi’s parents to appear at the Kgotla seven days later to enable a trial to begin. The contention was that Lephoi’s parents must show cause as to why they would not allow Moepi to have custody of his children.
Moepi made a statement of how he had been married to the late Lephoi for over 12 years and how their plans to have a great wedding celebration were abruptly destroyed not just by the untimely death, but also by the presence of Kgopa, the new man in their romance.
Lephoi’s mother became very emotional about the issue. She pointed to her headgear (tukwi ya selelo) and accused the customary court of losing our values and cultural tradition. She refused to speak and threatened to walk out, reminding the court that the children in question were still using Lephoi’s surname.
As I tried to explain how important it was to sort out the matter to protect the children who also wanted to be with their father, Lephoi’s brother rose and attacked Moepi, threatening to disrupt the kgotla proceedings if no respect was shown to the fact that (resantse re lela rona). He was obviously under the influence of alcohol as the small portacabin I operated in smelt like a brewery because of his presence. The police were called to restore order and the matter continued. Amongst the audience was an elderly man in his 80s whose eyes shone with wisdom. He requested just to ask one question and that was allowed. The question was (naare lo teilwe ke mang are ring ke yone lenyalo) meaning, “Who told you that a wedding band constitutes marriage?”
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
Moepi is customarily married but his wife and children were still staying with Lephoi’s parents. Lephoi’s parents were holding on to the thinking that the absence of the grand finale of marriage gave them the power to hold on to Lephoi’s children.
In judgement the kgotla made an order that Moepi must have custody of his children. He was instructed to begin the process of having their surnames changed, a right he held because he was married customarily.
Lephoi’s brother walked out of the kgotla, all the time struggling to maintain his balance and murmuring threats to visit his traditional healer who would make sure Moepi died like Lephoi.
I know for certain there are many young people out there who are trapped into this uncertain game of wishing that everything would end well. This long courtship is a new development and it opens so many doors for abuse of individuals who choose to play the game, especially the innocent children who are passive participants.
In the end the choice is yours. May the Divine grant you the wisdom to develop principles that will enable you to make sustainable choices for the unique person you are.