A prominent theme in my column over the last few months has highlighted the contrast between transitional cultural practices and modern day behaviour in issues concerning family, reproductive health and inheritance.
It was something I thought about recently when I learnt of behavioural patterns in the animal kingdom related to the nurturing of the young. I was fascinated to discover that a mother eagle breaks the nest at any early stage to ensure that the baby eagle becomes self sufficient, and that a father elephant apparently keeps the boy elephant from the girl elephants for 30 years.
I am not an expert so could not verify the facts, but it got me thinking about a golden rule that used to cut across African people who considered it a curse to abandon a child (ngwana ga a latlhiwe). There was also a powerful message to young men not to damage young women (seduction/tshenyo) and young girls were encouraged to be stingy with their ‘favours’ in order to avoid being abandoned with children.
The social evolution that has since taken place was inevitable, but now society has to evaluate the impact of modern reproductive management systems and see how they impact on gender imbalance, the poverty of women, domestic violence, the violation of children’s rights, education of the girl child and other related topics hotly debated at numerous gender equality workshops.
Before I ramble on any further, let me take you to this week’s case study from the kgotla.
The complainant is Petso, a 16-year-old who was uprooted from his mother by his dad apparently under pressure from the family to uphold the principle that “ngwana ga a latlhwe” (you cannot throw away a child). The boy needed toiletries and uniform and his dad had told him, “You can go to the kgotla. I don’t want to educate you to benefit your mother.”
Petso’s was an emotional appeal for help and I was already getting a bad feeling about the defendant as I invited the concerned parties to the kgotla.
It transpired that until his tenth birthday Petso enjoyed health and happiness under the care of his single mother. He vividly recalled the day when the man Ben arrived in the company of other people unknown to him. After a brief meeting of elders his mother told the young boy that Ben was his Papa and he wanted to take him in his home village to live. The young boy had cried bitterly at the prospect of separating from his siblings, but had resigned himself to his fate. He travelled for what seemed an eternity to the man’s village, experiencing so many things that were strange and new to him. Amongst them a granny he had never met who cried alarmingly and continued to say, “ O ngwanaangwanake batho” (Oh my grandchild).
The next morning after his arrival Ben was gone, and only returned on occasional visits. Grandma however gave him love and spoiled him with pula coins from under her pillow.
Then the old lady died suddenly leaving Petso not only without pula coins, but also with no one to live with. Ben did not seem to know him at all. Petso was now doing form three and his father declared openly that he would have nothing to do with the boy because he had a continuous longing to visit his mum and other siblings.
The young lad talked of a kind cousin who had been a Good Samaritan to him.
Ben agreed with every word Petso had spoken before court. His argument was that the idea of bringing Petso to their family was not his, but his mother’s as she insisted on the tradition of ngwana ga a latlhwe.
Ben has no bond with his son because they only met when Petso was ten and he felt that the boy would want to go back to his mother once he was educated and independent.
The tragedy of the matter was that Petso was the mirror image of the father and I felt like the man was ignoring himself.
Petso had only two questions: “O ne on tseela eng kwa go mama wena” (Why did you take me from my mum?) To this Ben only shook his head.
Petso then asked “ Ka na nkuku omphile dikgomo le dipudi gore di ntlhokomele, ke eng osa direkisi wa nthusa” Meaning my grandma gave me an inheritance of her cattle and goats, why don’t you sell them for me?
At this Ben became visibly angry, spitting out the words: “My mother cannot prefer to give you her things over me.”
What would you do if you were the judge?
These were the facts I had to consider as far as Petso was concerned:
He was uprooted from his warm nest through no fault of his own. He needed love first and support second.
The boy has been landed with a “Papa” who just surfaces and disappears as he pleased.
He is still nursing a deep wound inflicted by the death of his grandma.
He misses his mum and siblings but resigned himself to having to stay with this second family.
When it came to Ben the issues to be considered were:
His mother, who wanted her grandson, had forced him into fatherhood.
He did not seem to have any warmth or love towards his son.
He has two other children he has to maintain through the Affiliation Act.
It would not be easy to access social welfare support for Petso because his father has a good job and lives well.
I explained that Ben must give Petso financial support, and after a lengthy discussion he seemed to acknowledge and accept the fact. But when it came to ensuring that a man should love his own flesh and blood, I did not know which string to pull.
The social welfare department was made aware of Petso’s plight and I requested them to look into the situation and determine what was in his best interests.
The lessons to be learnt from this rather sorry state of affairs is that family life is yet to find a moral compass that will not only guide management of reproductive health, but educate the modern generation into not being ambushed by parenthood. The cultural principle of ‘oitige’ (drop off) might have to be revisited. This simply means if the intention is not to have a child in an encounter with a woman, don’t plant a seed you are not ready to nurture.
Our dikgosi have a duty to strengthen the family and laws that protect children born out of wedlock. There is so much to learn from our culture. Strategies for cultural adoption must be developed to ensure that if “Papa” wants a child he must maintain and rear his offspring and not simply abandon the young one to ‘grandma.’
As we scale the pillars of 2016 we must understand that instability in the family threatens national security and the national vision.
There is little wonder why women fall into the poverty trap when a child is dragged from one woman’s hands and abandoned to the care of a poorer and older woman. We must make an effort to be better than the mother eagle that breaks the nest to determine if the baby eagle is prepared.
As human beings we must do better than that.
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