‘The chain’ has become obstacle number one to the achievement of zero infection in the fight against AIDS, and manifests itself in so many aspects of kgotla work. Before I take you to my case for this week let me share with you the use of certain words that appear to justify undesirable behaviour patterns that are so entrenched in our communities. In Setswana there is a word “go nna le motho” the Ikalanga equivalent “ ku gala,” these words seem to suggest that living with someone comes naturally even if that individual is married to another.
Sempe caused something of a commotion as he stepped out of his car frantically waiving around a charred leather jacket. The agitated man was so keen to tell his story that he had already shared the details with anyone that cared to listen even before his turn came to be ushered into my office.
When he finally reached my porta camp he wanted me to answer this question. “ A mme gosiame go tshuba diaparo tsa motho” meaning “ Is there any justification to burn clothes?”
He went on to explain that as he parked his car after returning home, having been away for three nights, he noticed that something was burning in the backyard.
He went to investigate and was horrified to find his wife Wametsi standing there in front of a bonfire piled high with his clothes, including expensive suits from Italy and his prized leather jacket.
When he demanded to know what was going on, his wife had replied: “Make up your mind about the marriage otherwise next time you will have even more to shout about.”
Now standing in front of me he was making a formal complaint asking the kgotla to reprimand his errant wife. It was a complaint fully backed by his parents who had already written off their daughter-in-law as a “terrible woman.”
Although this was extremely urgent I gave the couple two days to get their respective parents to accompany them to the kgotla for the reconciliation and healing of what was a rapidly collapsing marriage.
On the appointed day Sempe related his story for all to hear, casually mentioning in the telling, “Kana ke nna le mosetsana yo” – by the way I stay with this other girl. I was amazed as the information was slipped in without any tinge of guilt or remorse. The fact certainly seemed to have no bearing on his conviction that his wife was an irresponsible and impulsive woman.
Wametsi was then given the chance to cross-examine her husband and tell her story. She began with a series of short, sharp exchanges.
“Your child with Stoky (the other woman) was born three years into our marriage?
Are you aware you have exposed me to the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS?
“I would like the parents here to know that you have literally two homes.”
“But only one wife.”
“Do you know that you are using your child with Stoky to hurt me?”
“But she’s only a child.”
“How many times have you left me alone just because Stoky said the child was sick?”
“What should I do?”
As Wametsi went on to tell her story, it emerged that she had been married to Sempe for about six years, but three years into their marriage Sempe confessed that he was a dad outside, and had had a baby with his girlfriend Stoky. In fact it was less of a confession and more an acknowledgement of the facts after Wametsi had found SMS messages from her, and hotel receipts for Sempe and a companion for dates when he claimed to have been at the cattle post.
Wametsi then produced evidence that she was receiving counselling and was on anti depressants. She couldn’t understand how Sempe found nothing wrong with putting her through such stress whilst he enjoyed the comfort of two homes.
She admitted that burning Sempe’s best suits was wrong, but she claimed she only did it in a desperate attempt to draw attention to the trauma and humiliation she was undergoing.
As she finished it was clear that both sets of parents were eager to add their comments. They were united in the common theme that Wametsi had failed the test of being a ‘strong’ woman. Her mother even reminded her daughter that she was also treated like that by her own husband.
For his part Uncle Wadikgomo thought Sempe was an honourable man who even had the decency to disclose who he ‘stays with.’ (Ao setlogolo ga ke are waitse gore Sempe o nna le Stoky e bile o go ipoleletse)
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
Wametsi’s frustration is understandable. She wants a faithful husband and Sempe has to break the chain.
The facts I had to consider were that Sempe’s chain had produced a child who must be taken care of – that overtaxes the family in terms of time, emotions, finances, etc.
The older folks in the Kgotla are obsessed with protecting the marriage at all costs.
Wametsi feels let down and betrayed by the person who had vowed to love and cherish her, forsaking all others, ‘till death.
In judgment I had to risk the anger of the older generation by telling them that Sempe had brought the proverbial ton of bricks upon himself by being unfaithful to his wife.
Naturally the burning of Sempe’s clothes did not help the situation, but I wondered what further punishment such behaviour warranted when the woman had already suffered so much.
Wametsi refused to apologise for her actions and in the end declared that she would see her lawyer to consider a divorce action based on infidelity. The action seemed to be supported by the elders, and the matter was left like that.
Such cases illustrate that we still have a long way to go to end polygamous practices that continue to cause problems in relationships understood to be monogamous. Sadly infidelity cuts across class, religion, sex and wealth, bruising the scripture quoting believer and the atheist alike.
Couples need to be clear about boundaries that should exist in their relationship. Just as the modern woman makes it clear that she did not marry merely to validate her existence, or even to demonstrate strength to handle infidelity at a cost to her emotional health, nor does a man marry in order to give his wife licence to ‘screw around.’
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