If a word could sum up the difference in outlook from the old to the new generation, it would I feel be the change of the pronoun ‘our’ into the singular ‘my.’
We are emerging from a social order where people talked in terms of ‘our child’, ‘our cattle post’, ‘our borehole’, (ngwana yo warona; moraka wa rona) and yet in reality in the centre of all this ownership by assumption, there is an individual who actually holds legal rights over the object.
Many older folk in our society would like to stick to that which they have always known in terms of just giving a verbal instruction concerning the distribution of their estates. They come from a generation that considers that the writing of a will not to be cultural (gase ngwao ya rona ke go ipiletsa loso le le kgakala le wena). Meaning that by writing a will you could invite the spirit of death to come earlier than it might have done if left to the will of God.
Let me share with you the story of Ra-Moreri an elderly man who gathered his relatives and explained to them that his time to go was approaching and therefore he would like his son Moreri to inherit the borehole, which had been in the family for over 70 years. He declared further that Moreri would be the head of the family in his absence and he would take care of his mother and siblings.
Not long after Ra-Moreri died and indeed Moreri assumed the position of family caretaker. Moreri registered his father’s borehole in his name, and about the same time got married to Lesedi. Sadly two years later Moreri tragically died in an accident.
Shortly after her husband’s burial there was a misunderstanding between Lesedi and Moreri’s family, and in frustration Lesedi felt very strongly that she should dispose of Moreri’s estate and move on with her life.
A group of people presented themselves at the Kgotla to lodge a complaint against Lesedi who had given them notice to vacate the family borehole. Only one person could be registered as the complainant, which was Ma-Moreri, who wanted the Kgotla to summons Lesedi to come and show cause as to why she had denied the family water rights they had enjoyed for decades. The matter was set down for trial and Lesedi appeared.
The old lady told court that her husband consulted her and other members of the family and it was agreed that their son Moreri would inherit the family borehole. She explained that her son had married Lesedi, and now while the family was struggling to come to terms with his loss, “This woman who did not even have a child with our son is grabbing everything because they have signed a contract to marry in community of property.” (Are ba kopanetse dithoto ka nyalo ya gagwe).
She went on to say how painful it was to lose Moreri so soon after the father. Ma-Moreri said there were witnesses who were there when Ra-Moreri explained that his son Moreri would be a caretaker (motlhokomedi), but now she did not know how to fit Lesedi into this puzzle. The thrust of her lengthy argument was that if she were allowed to knock sense into Lesedi’s head, it might help her appreciate that she could not take over the family borehole.
It was so difficult for Ma-Moreri to calm down and speak without emotion, but eventually she ended her account by saying (ao kgosi ketshwanetse go latlhegelwa ke ngwanake ke bo ke thukuthwa sediba sa banake) meaning, “Can I really lose my son and at the same time the borehole that is supposed to sustain me?”
Lesedi was given an opportunity to cross-examine her mother in law. As she stood I was amused to observe the attention she paid to renewing her lipstick whilst making an effort to lengthen her very short skirt by pulling it down. She then fired off the following questions.
a) Mme, are you aware that I was married to the late Moreri in community of property?
To which the old woman answered: Sempitse mme ontshotla, nkabo kele mmago dikgomo tsame di ka bo dinale metsi. Golofa tlhakanelo dithoto e tsaya let dithoto tsabatho (Don’t call me mother. If I were your mother, my cattle would not be denied water, and this community of property thing, does it drag in other people’s property as well?)
b) Mme do you know that now that Moreri is gone I have the right to inherit all he had?
Again Ma Moeri was quick to reply: Ke kopa gore o emise go mpitsa mme. Sediba se gase sa ga Moreri one a se tshegeletsa ba lolwapa
(I have said do not call me mother. This borehole was never Moreri’s property, he was asked to be caretaker).
It was obvious that the question and answer session was making Ma Moreri boil over in frustration. She finally blurted out: (o legodu gao swabe) “You are a thief and you are not even ashamed.”
Ma-Moreri was called to order and Lesedi was asked to resume her testimony. Against the backdrop of insults and murmurings from angry relatives, and after again grappling with her short skirt, she continued.
She confirmed that she had been married to Moreri for two years and that he had died and left her without a child, and that seemed to be the source of the trouble. Matters were not improved when she refused to wear the black dress of mourning prescribed by the family.
Now out of anger and frustration from the insults she had to live with, she had decided to advertise the borehole for sale since it was part of her late husband’s estate. All she wanted was to move on with her life. She told the court that she had been fair to Moreri’s family because she gave them adequate notice to find alternative water for their animals.
The verbal battle resumed with another volley of questions from the mother in law.
Do you know the origin of the borehole? Do you think I am a fool not to inherit when my husband who gave me eight children died? Are you happy to push me out of my property?
In all these questions she did not seem to want answers. Then she mumbled something to the effect that Ra-Moreri should come back to life and see the trouble he had put the family to.
WHAT WOULD DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
The letter and the spirit of the customary inheritance system assumed that individuals would act in love in accordance with the interests of the family. The other assumption was that a young lady coming into the in-laws family would instantly gel and become one with them. Ma-Moreri’s shock at Lesedi’s behaviour is justified.
She was denied the right to inherit from her husband because of the tradition that a son inherits from his father, but now a young girl was seen to be inheriting from her husband. Naturally Ra-Moreri had not imagined that he might turn his wife and other siblings into beggars.
On the other hand Lesedi is standing on the contract of community of property. And when all was said and done, and the judgment passed in the young woman’s favour, all Ma-Moreri could do was cry bitterly.
As we try to pursue issues of gender justice and equality, we have in this case to equate Ma-Moreri’s cultural disqualification from inheriting from her husband, with Lesedi’s right to inherit property that was handed over to Moreri for the family.
It would seem therefore that in order to escape the pain and trauma that follows the loss of our loved ones, the time has come for all of us to rid ourselves of the fear involved in writing a will.
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