The concept that we are all equal before the law, and our Maker, is enshrined as a basic human right.
The day he walked into my small porta cabin at the kgotla, wild eyed and agitated, my initial impression was of a freedom fighter that had backed the wrong side in a revolution.
He defied the social protocol of “dumela kgosi/mme’ and went straight on to relate his very sad and yet amusing story.
His first words were: “Kana batho ba gana ka bongwanake bare ke mosarwa” (People are refusing to let me have access to my children because I am a Mosarwa).
Selei told how he had met with Sega at one of the mining towns and they developed an exiting relationship. They were both in their 20’s and like many young Batswana they started a relationship without the need to involve formal wedlock. As a result of their union they now had two children – a seven-year-old boy and a girl of five.
They had acquired household goods together and shared a relatively good life and were quite happy. Although Sega’s parents raised the children, Selei was in the village every month end to give them food provisions, and he enjoyed great respect from the family whenever he visited.
The years of peace were however shattered in a day when Thupa, his lover’s brother, paid the couple a visit. Selei took the young man to Maitiso where they enjoyed St Louis and braai.
During the night out one of Selei’s cousins joined them, and as the beers flowed and the conversation turned to woman, Selei reverted to their native language when he asked his cousin, “Namae shaa baramo” (where is your girl friend?). The subject produced a lively response and the details were discussed enthusiastically in Sesarwa.
Feeling a bit left out and with mounting anxiety, Thupa draw Selei’s attention and asked him, “Monna, naare Mosarwa kana ose bua fela ele puo oe itse?” (Tell me – are you a Mosarwa or you just happen to know it as a language?)
Selei, whose inhibition if any ever existed was gently removed by the many cans of Saint Louis he had consumed, had no problem affirming his origins.
It was an answer that brought to an end what until then had been an evening of back slapping friendship.
Thupa could not hide his shock at the breaking news, and it was not long before surprise gave way to scorn.
That was the night Selei lost his relationship to Sega and his right to be a father to his lovely children ended there. The following morning Sega told him that Thupa and the family had made a decision for her to go and look for a job elsewhere. She had been instructed to move from the house they shared before her brother left town.
To add insult to injury Thupa was still phoning relatives back home informing them that Selei was not a person but a Mosarwa. To his dismay Sega took all the furniture and moved towns without even saying goodbye.
As Selei concluded his sad narrative I explained that this was not a situation over which the court had any legal jurisdiction, but nevertheless the kgotla had the duty to heal families in such a dilemma. Sega’s family were invited to the court and among them there was an uncle who happened to be a political heavy weight, and it was obvious that his presence was supposed to intimidate the Kgosi.
Selei related his story one more time for the benefit of Sega and her relatives, emphasising how he missed his children and was not prepared to lose them just like that. He insisted that that he had rights and he simply thought the Kgotla would help him. If not he was ready to go up to the highest office of the land.
Sega’s family was given the chance to respond and as I had predicted it was the political giant who indicated that he would like to speak. He stood up, adjusted his tie and jacket with that body language that says, ‘do you know who I am,’ pulled out his top of the range Nokia phone and seemed to be doing something important on it until I urged him to save time and speak. The political giant was Sega’s maternal uncle and he opened his mouth to say “Kgosi lo re diela nako ka mosarwa yo” (How can you waste our time with the mosarwa?)
I gently but pointedly called the uncle to order and asked him to give the respect he in turn would expect. I asked him to withdraw the statement and apologise to Selei, which he did.
Sega spoke very briefly to explain that as a child she had to obey her parents – after all they were the ones who were looking after the children.
Sega acknowledged that her kids were missing their dad, but her parents were strict and upset about Selei being a Mosarwa.
What would you do if you were the Judge?
The following questions have to be considered.
Should Selei’s tribal affiliation prejudice him as a father?
How equal are we before the law, before our Maker, and before our fellow countrymen?
Should a father’s responsibility be reduced to provision and not love and bonding with the children?
How strong is our sense of commitment to equality?
In reconciliation the kgotla does not pass judgement but rather opens doors for a healing process to begin by exposing the dangers of tribal bigotry and how it can actually result in domestic violence – an issue we are all trying to fight.
This situation called for a sermon that would melt the hardest of hearts and bring conversion to all individuals. When I had finished there was a moment of stunned silence, but my words had not fallen on deaf ears.
The matter was actually resolved by the uncle whose initial mission was to destroy Selei. In a moment of genuine emotion he embraced Selei and acknowledged that the discussion at the kgotla had opened his eyes to the realities of life. He was now happy to set his niece Sega free to make a personal choice to decide if she wished to continue with Selei to raise their children.
My advice and warning to young people out there is that much as we have the unlimited right to reproduce, we have responsibility to plan such that we have homes from which to raise our children without interference of a third party.
Arrogance and a spirit of superiority are the worst forms of witchcraft, but it is easy for them to creep into lives unchecked as they usually come in the disguise of the bigot.
Selei was the same person before and after his identity as a Mosarwa was revealed. Nothing in him had changed, yet the discovery exposed him to a whole heap of prejudices.
In the end Sega’s family reopened doors for Selei to visit his children at anytime, and life goes on.
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