The mother and child reunion
Whilst the basic human values of love, truth, non-violence, peace and right conduct are changeless and timeless, there is no doubt that there has been a value shift over the years in our society.
Cultural values have been influenced if not eroded by forces that include affluence, power dynamics between men and women, extension of parental roles and the emotional pressures that come with divorce and separation.
This value shift has brought upon communities the need to redefine inheritance laws and other family related issues.
Let me take you to this week’s customary court scenario that illustrates how the desire for a sense of identity can threaten even the steely bond between a mother and son.
Wantlha was a well to do high achiever whose life ran smoothly until the day some troubles over culture erupted and kicked him below the belt.
He was by appearance not one of the usual candidates for the Kgotla set up, but he made it clear that he desperately needed help concerning some traditional issues that needed to be unraveled.
He told the court that he was born of the union between Mmatli and Sentsho who were married for about two years.
It emerged that Wantlha’s parents got locked into a very painful and bitter divorce that had left his mother so scarred that whenever Wantlha dared to make reference to Sentsho she would make sure the subject was changed.
Mum had moved on with her life and married husband number two who legally adopted Wantlha as his own son and even changed Wantlha’s surname to his own.
None of this had meant much to Wantlhain his early youth, but just about at the time he was finishing his tertiary education he had an encounter with individuals who claimed to be related to him through his biological father.
These newly discovered relatives from Sentsho’s family were so welcoming and loving that Wantlha somehow got attracted to them.
The young man was very careful not to mention to his mother that he had discovered a set of new relatives from his father’s family.
As fate would have it Sentsho died soon after and it was the ‘secret’ cousin who informed Wantlhaof his dad’s passing.
Sentsho had never remarried and it turned out that he had named Wantlha as the sole heir to his estate, even though he had had no contact with his son.
These developments did not escape the curious ear of Mmatli and she took it upon herself to warn her son not to have anything to do with Sentsho or his relatives, describing them as evil vultures whose only interest was to reap where they had not sown.
Although he had no wishto hurt his loving mother, he had developed a strong desire to explore his roots.
He was now caught in a crisis of identity and emotion as some of Sentsho’s relatives openly advocated that heshould reject his adoptive father if he was to inherit their brother’s estate that included a farm, guns, boreholes and a sizeable stock of cattle and goats.
For Wantlhathe issue was less about the inheritance of a massive estate, but more about the desire to identify with Sentsho, who was not just a biological father but also the man who had married his mother.
Although he was troubled by his mother’s insistence that he had nothing to do with his father’s issues, he did not express his feelings as he also had a debt of gratitude to Mmatli and his stepfather for his upbringing.
He was however aware that his father’s family had taken a loving interest in him because he was Sentsho only child and they were looking to him as the “seed” that according to Setswana culture is described as “keyonepeoyamoswi” (the offshoot of the dead tree).
Wantlha wanted the customary court to help bring reconciliation, restoration and healing especially between himself and his treasured mum whose path he dared not cross.
He also wanted help in reconnecting with the lost roots of his past, not so much for the sake of inheritance but to correct an injustice that was a product of his mother’s anger and frustration at the time of her divorce.
Mmatli was invited to appear at the Court to be reconciled with Wantlha.
My first encounter with this formidable woman was not an easy one as she roared like a lioness that had lost her cub, and it took all my diplomacy, love filled encouragement and traditional wisdom to get Mmatli to listen to her son’s reasoning.
As the discussion progressed, the hidden scars of Mmatli’s divorce came to the surface threatening the possibility of an amicable solution.
It was obvious that Wantlha was the only weapon at Mmatli’s disposal to punish the Sentsho family for what she perceived as their selfishness and arrogance during the divorce.
On the other hand Wantlhafelt that his parents’ divorce had distorted his identity and he had a deep yearning to re-establish his roots, moreso that Sentsho had named him as the sole beneficiary of his estate.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
Points to consider:-
- Mmatli took full responsibility to raise her son singlehandedly and when she remarried her husband got a readymade family that he cherished, thus shutting the door to Sentsho’s rights as a father.This was made easy by the anger that seems to accompany most divorces.
- For speculative reasons such as anger, pride, fear, Sentshohad accepted the boundaries brought about by the divorce and did not push for visiting rights.
- Wantlha as a child had lived in blissful ignorance until his eyes were opened to the reality that his parents’ split should not have forced him to divorce his roots and identity.
This was one of those cases where the judge had to play it byear and see which way the wind would blow.
Wantlha seemed to have rehearsed a therapeutic speech to address all the parties concerned in order to bring this painful ordeal to an end.
He began by thanking his mum whom he called “my queen” for the good work of raising him to be the loving man he was, and went on to assure her of his infinite love and loyalty.
He was at pains to point out “gake battle boswakebatladitsotsame”- meaning “I do not want inheritance but my identity.”
It was a highly charged and emotional scene and his mother wept bitterly shedding what she perceived to be tears of defeat from a dead man who had never been there for her son.
Wantlhatoo had tears in his eyes as he stood up to gently embrace his mum and plead, “KeKopa gore otlhaloganye mama” – please bear with me mama.
It was the moment of truth and as I watched this touching scene I wondered if the old woman really understand her son’s heart’s desireor was she a prisoner of the past, allowing its grip to crush reason and cast dark shadows into the future.
It is not easy to judge, you need to have been on that path to appreciate the emotion of the moment.
But in the end love and Wantlha won the day.
This I took not as a triumph of the court, but a victory of the human spirit and the enduring strength of the five basic human values in which love reigns supreme.