The sight of a highly expectant young woman at the kgotla, looking far from happy at the ‘bundle of joy’ she is carrying, usually brings to mind one conclusion – that some irresponsible father of the unborn child has thrown her out and run away from his responsibility.
Tears stood in Stella’s eyes as she fought her emotions in the struggle to tell her story. She had a black string for mourning around her neck. Her first words were: “ Re tswa mo losong lwaga Kgotso” (We have just buried Kgotso) This was followed by “Kgotso ke ene Papa” (Kgotso is my father)
It emerged that Kgotso’s parents had taken Stella when she was six months old. Kgotso was 19 when he fathered his daughter and Kgotso’s parents requested that they be given a chance to assist by raising the girl since her mother was only 16 at the time.
As it turned out Stella never got an opportunity to know her mother’s background. Whenever reference was made to her mother, it was in hushed tones and guarded secrecy. To Stella the issue did not seem very important since she had become used to calling Kgotso’s parents mum and dad. Her biological dad was never referred to as ‘Papa.’
But when Kgotso ‘s parents died, Stella went to live with Kgotso and his wife Lesedi. She was highly expectant at the time but Kgotso and his wife were dealing with the issue culturally. As fate would have it Kgotso died after a short illness, hence the black sting around Stella’s neck.
Kgotso’s warm nest of security was shattered the day they buried Kgotso when at the family gathering Lesedi announced to the relatives that Stella would have to find her biological mother or the mother’s family. She argued that she wanted ‘to move on with her life’ and Stella would only be ‘excess baggage’ in that process. In the absence of Kgotso and his parents, the mystery about Stella’s maternal relatives could not be unravelled. The expectant mum was being kicked out from her home and Kgotso’s wife made it clear that she would not provide for Stella from her late father’s estate because she had married Kgotso in community of property.
A family meeting was convened to try to get to the bottom of this pain that humiliated and reduced Stella to the proverbial Sewagodimo (the one who falls from above).
AT THE KGOTLA
On the day of the meeting Stella had given birth ten days previously and did not even have the luxury of the confinement period in accordance with cultural practice. The pitiful sight of her as she held her baby only emphasised her seemingly hopeless situation.
But this time there were no tears. Perhaps motherhood had given her a greater strength. I was touched as she paused in the telling of her story to peep into the blankets, allowing herself the flicker of a smile as she cuddled the baby boy she had named Kgotso after her father.
In her response Lesedi was brief. She threw her words out without any hint of compassion, emphasising only that she had married Kgotso and not his daughter. She told the court that she had brought her two children into the marriage and they were enough of a handful – she certainly did not need the emotional burden that came with being a stepparent.
She declared that she was giving herself a month to wind up her late husband’s affairs and then intended to move back to her home village. I could see from their body language that Lesedi’s relatives were uncomfortable with their daughter’s attitude, but none dared challenge her except her mother’s uncle who courageously spoke up and said: “Ke gore manyalo a gompieno ke papadi, kana mmu wa phuphu ya ga mogatso gao ise o wele mme o itatola ngwana wa gagw?” (It seems modern marriages are about property acquisition, how can you throw away your husband’s child while the soil of his grave is untouched by the wind?)
Emboldened by the effect his words were having, the uncle asked: “Yone community ya gompieno a e tswalela bana ba motho kwa serameng.” (This community thing, does it shut the door to the other party’s children?)
To this Lesedi simply said “malome gase maloba”- meaning these are modern days.
Fortunately at the kgotla there was Kgotso’s cousin who was learned in the field of law and he took it upon himself to demystify the community on the property puzzle. He explained that Lesedi was not entitled to 100% of Kgotsos estate but rather she would take 50% and the other 50% she would share with his daughter. Lesedi quickly chipped in “le bongwanake ba tshwanetse go abelwa.” (My children must also get a share)
What would you do if you were the Judge?
Stella desperately needed information concerning her mother and where she could be found, but the people who held the key to her background had passed on without ever discussing the topic.
It was obvious to me that vulnerable as she was, Stella needed someone who could hold her hand and provide that unconditional love that family members are supposed to provide. The issue of inheritance was secondary to her troubled heart.
On the other hand Lesedi was an assured 21st Century woman who saw the situation as a simple calculation ensuring that she minimized her losses and maximized her gains.
In judgement the Kgotla obtained legal advice concerning the estate issue and referred Lesedi and Stella to the appropriate authority. The issue of Stella’s mother and where she came from remains a mystery to this day.
The kind of pain Stella suffered could not be simply wished away despite the sympathy that was felt.
Many individuals feel that there should be little or no regulation concerning the rearing of children, but I have observed that there is a desperate need for proper documentation through the kgotla concerning children born to unmarried parents.
Kind gestures and good intentions by those who raise grand/foster children should be accompanied by property documentation. Yes, love is all you need, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect the paper work!