Perhaps one of the hardest calculations to balance is the mother + father = child equation.
As I share with you this week’s customary court scenario our story shows how something as natural as childbirth can unbalance and break a mother’s heart until she takes her agony to her resting place.
Maria and her son Phenyo caught me as I was locking the porta camp that is my office at the end of the day.
Although they looked hopelessly tired, there was an element of anxiety and agitation that drew my compassion towards them and I decided to listen to their story beyond working hours.
Maria related a painful story of rejection by both her own family and the family of her husband.
For more than a decade she had put up with gossip and malicious talk concerning Phenyo’s sexual orientation.
While traditionally our communities have a reputation of being overprotective towards children, Phenyo seemed destined not to enjoy love and protection from any of the uncles.
The boy had grown up in a hostile environment that came up with all sorts of reasons to reject him.
Phenyo’s parents had been strong until one day Maria was summoned to attend a family meeting to discuss her son.
At the meeting Maria had to explain to the uncles what she made of Phenyo’s‘effeminate mannerisms.’
Maria who already carried a lot of emotional burden did not take kindly to the family’s interrogation, and so excused herself from the meeting to annoyance of her in-laws.
Then the family targeted Phenyo and subjected him to highly personal questions.
As Maria was trying to relate the ordeal they have had to put up with, she broke down and Phenyo offered to take over.
“You see mmaI have been subjected to intense physical examination and I have been told to make an effort to speak, act and dress up like a man.
As if that is not enough I have been asked to take loans to travel to traditional doctors and to prophets in Botswana and beyond in search of a cure to make me a ‘proper man.’
“The search for a healer to straighten me has drawn a blank, and all that keeps on coming up is that some ancestors need a sacrifice to appease them.
The reason I have come with my mother is that she needs someone who has compassion, someone who will listen and give her love and understanding.
As for me I have decided to leave home peacefully and find a country that will receive me as an equal.”
Having listened to Phenyo’s account and got a grasp of what he was saying I shifted uncomfortably on my chair and asked: “When did you really know you were …er…like this?
Phenyo looked me in the eye and said with all due respect – “Let me ask you too – when did you first notice you were heterosexual?”It was a retort that in one go blew away my initial prejudice.
To this Maria, now stronger in her emotions, explained that everyone around her forgot that Phenyo was a loving son in all respects.
Now relatives who have concluded that the boy was “ketrasi” meaning homosexual – expect her to turn her back on a child who gives her so much love and joy.
Although Maria knew that hers was a lost cause even before it started, she had the courage to articulate the prejudice that she has been exposed to.
Her in-laws accused her of bringing this “curse” to their family saying that they had never before had any such character in their line.
Maria requested that a meeting be convened for her to express her disappointment at the way the matter concerning her son’s sexual orientation was handled by all and sundry.
She felt the kgotla would be a safe place where the jeering and name-calling would be minimized.
Phenyo related his story with emphasis on the indignity, degradation and humiliation he had suffered from people who were supposed to love and protect him.
He gave a detailed account of the money he had been forced to pay to traditional healers for cleansing or “deliverance.”
He had been forced to buy sheep and goats to be sacrificed to remove the “curse” that would make him “equal”.
He rested his case by explaining the hurt that was deep within his soul.
How he was saddened at seeing his mum being treated like a common criminal by the family since all fingers pointed at her for raising him to be the way he was.
Phenyo’s grandfather Ra Oeme requested that he be allowed to ask questions.
Question: Can you explain to Kgosi what you are (a o monna ka naoeng) – a man or what?
Answer: I am a man who has worked hard and gave you the jacket you are wearing right now.
Grand Father Ra Oeme smiled sheepishly then cleared his voice to address the customary court.
He maintained that according to Setswana tradition and culture things are never left to chance. There are many herbs out there that can straighten things for a man.
The family is anxious to help the boy and they do not understand why this silly woman has run to the customary court.
He like all the uncles in the customary court did not have any regrets for what Phenyo called humiliation because they desperately needed to make him to be like other “men.”
What would you do if you were the judge?
Points to consider:-
Phenyo found it very difficult to come to terms that what he considered his “natural pattern of life” and how it offended the moral and spiritual disposition of his family.
Phenyo wanted his elders to be grateful that he submitted himself to the ridiculous suggestion that he should be cleansed although it cost him loans he could not afford.
Phenyo did not understand the prejudice towards his mother by his in-laws who blamed him for his circumstances.
Maria loved him from conception and would love him till his last day.
Loving his son was the only language she seemed to know.
This extremely difficult matter was actually resolved by Phenyowho addressed the Kgotla telling his relatives that he had decided to go and work abroad to save the family the shame they felt about him.
He made it clear to all present that his Maker was the only one who understood his situation and He loved him unconditionally the way he was.
Maria sat quietly squeezing her son’s palm for assurance whilst the uncle’s murmurs did not cease.
There is a powerful lesson in Phenyo and Maria’s sad story.
It is one that challenges “prejudice” and the high handed attitude towards issues least understood by ourselves.
Further it proves that discriminating against these differences provides a temporary comfort.
Apartheid for example was a response to the failure to embrace those with a different colour.
Maria was ready to die for Phenyo because of the unfailing mother/son bond that always stands bold in the face of adversity.
And with that in mind I wish a Happy Mothers Day to ever challenged mothers. Stand tall -there is hope.