Balanced evenly between success and failure, holy wedlock is a challenging journey that brings on many changes. The person you were calling honey one day, could in the next moment render your life unmanageable.
Whilst not set up as a marriage guidance facility many of the cases heard at the customary court involve married couples, and I have always done my best to council the warring parties.
This week’s story involving Chedza and Ntshese is a case in point. Locked up in a discordant tug of love they each felt the other had used them. The good thing was that they both decided to seek an independent opinion from the Customary Court.
It was obvious even as we were exchanging traditional greetings that the couple had problems.
Both were eager to tell their story, but it was Chedza who spoke first.
She told how she had first meet Ntshese at a church meeting, which he attended regularly to seek divine intervention for his very complicated health condition.
She described how he had cut a pathetic figure and relied on compassionate individuals around him for almost everything.
He could not stand or make a five-step journey without the support of someone.
As they waited for their turns to see the man of God, Chedzaand Ntshese were drawn to each other.
She learnt that in the past ten years he had lost his wife and threedaughters, and that his only next of kin was a minor who had to rely on neighbours when he was in church.
Chedzawas soon a regular helper and in the weeks that followed became a permanent feature in Ntshese’s life. She explained that what had really hit her hard the first day she entered his house was a display of framed pictures of Ntshese’s former family.
Within weeks of their meetingChedza said that although Ntshese remained frail and walked through her support, emotionally he had become a changed man.
His joyful laughter even attracted the attention of neighbours, curious to discover the source of his joy.
Three months after their meeting, Ntshesewas miraculously transformed.
Not only could he walk unsupported, but felt strong enough to propose to Chedza.
In accepting his proposal she gave thanks to the Almighty for rewarding her for all the hard work she had done in nursing Ntshese.
Then two weeks after their wedding she requested that her photograph join the gallery of framed pictures of those close to Ntshese’s heart.
To her surprise her husband reacted by going into a sulk and refusing to eat food the whole day.
Chedzawas hurt by the attitude of the man she had nursed from near the grave.
The situation was not improved when word got back to relatives in Ntshese’s village that he now had a woman who would apparently inherit his property when he died.
Ntshese’s sisters descended upon her like vultures to interrogate and ask: “Kebo mang baba go rwaletseng ditlhako”-meaning who actually put on their shoes to go and ask for your hand in marriage?
Ntshese seemed to enjoy the show that was put up by his sisters.
When Chedza mentioned the name of the uncle who was responsible for her (Patlo) – they ridiculed her and declared that Ntshesewas yet to find a proper wife. Chedza said all these developments had shaken her otherwise peaceful life with her husband.
At the end of Chedza’s accountNtshese confirmed that indeed they had begun to experience problems.
He felt Chedza was being too demanding in insisting he included her picture amongst those of his former family, and resented the fact that she was also rearranging furniture in his house.
He was also disturbed by what Chedza called the emergence of people who had previously left him to die alone.
Ntshese feltthey were his own kith and kin, but Chedzaexpressed the view that, “ O raga lere o bona o palamekanna” – meaning that he was kicking the stepladder that took him to the top.
Ntshese for his part claimed that Chedzahad taken advantage of his loneliness and severe ill health and pushed him to make a hasty decision to marry.
He further said that he had married her not so much for love but rather for gratitude. And now he resented the prospect that Chedza would benefit if he were to die.
The relationship had soured to the extent that compassion and understanding had been replaced by mistrust and mental abuse.
Now like Moses parting the Red Sea I had been asked to help the couple find a way out of the waves of doubt that engulfed them.
What would you do if you were the Judge?
Like trying to fit the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together, these are the parts of the picture to consider.
It seemed from what the couple had told me that love was never really a significant part of the equation in this marriage.
Rather it was the compassion Chedzaoffered that made Ntshesefeel that he had to reward her with a wedding ring.
Ntshese’s emotional state becomes questionable when he refuses to allow his wife’sframed photograph to hang amongst his other family mementoes.
The opportunistic attitude of Ntshe’s family is shocking, suddenly coming back into his life as they do after they had left him to die alone.
Was Chedza driven by love and compassion or did she simply grab an opportunity to look after a man who had one leg in the grave with the hope that he would soon die and make her rich?
In my attempt to solve the problem I was reminded of the words of the philosopher Socrates who said: “Before we can move the world we must first move ourselves.”
I gently asked Ntshese to look deep into his soul and determine whether he had given Chedza the best deal.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and then as he opened them I could see that tears were standing there.
In the heart-wrenching scene that followed, Ntshese stood up to embrace Chedza and declare: “ Esekawenakekabokesulejaakantsa”- meaning without you I would have died like a dog.
He assured me that no problem was greater than man’s power to overcome.
He agreed that he had married in hasteas an incentive for Chedza to hang around, and admitted that he had never had a proper closure for the griefof loosing his wife and children.
As the tangle of emotion unknotted before me, I was heartened by Ntshese’s reconciling spirit as he pleaded to be given another chance to go home and heal their relationship.
The story confirms the truth we all know that in prosperity our friends know us, but in adversity we know our friends.
Far from being a sign of weakness, when Ntshese chose to be grateful he triumphed.
Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it, and whilst I can’t claim the quote as my own, I can at least feel that the couple’s decision to come to the kgotla had been rewarded.