And so inspired by the phrase, “What you don’t confront will confront you,” and its sister saying, “What you don’t confront you cannot change,” I wish to tackle the thorny subject of ‘damages.’
The word “tshenyo” literally means to mess up or to destroy and over the years of our struggle against HIV our customary courts have encountered hundreds of “tshenyo” cases.
But amongst the many surveys that have been conducted no one has paused to critically analyse the implications of “tshenyo” for HIV and also for perpetuating poverty for the damaged young ladies some of whom loose the schooling opportunity for good.
In the light of those thoughts I present this week’s case from the kgotla.
Oky’s arrival at the kgotla as he drove through the gate, crunching across the gravely ground and emerging form his top of the range car in a cloud of dust, was dramatic enough to draw the open mouthed attention of the Ipelegengworkers gathered there.
The young man was led to my office to make himself as comfortable as possible on the wooden bench provided. On the sleeve of his Armani suit he wore the little black traditional mourning cloth.
Pointing to the cloth he informed me that he had buried his grandma only a week ago, referring to the old woman as ‘mother’ since she had raised him from an early stage.
He cleared his throat in awkward embarrassment as if to prepare me for what was to follow.
He related that at the age of 18 he “damaged” a girl and subsequently three others.
Since he was an only child his grandma had collected all the children with the understanding that “o itiretsebomonnawe” – meaning he has provided for himself the brothers and sisters he never had.
All seemed to be working well with the children at various levels of primary education and being looked after by granny. But now with the passing away of the old lady Oky had a problem.
After the burial he could only think of one solution to his predicament.
He called the children’s mothers to come and collect them. But only the mother of the eldest child was keen to take her child provided Oky would be financially responsible for support.
The other three young ladies were adamant that Oky had to make a plan to continue keeping custody of the children.
He now requested a meeting with the three mothers so that a solution to the problem could be found.
When he returned his car was full of noisy and happy little faces clinging to him dearly and calling him Oky and not papa.
They were each competing for his attention and he was visibly irritated by the overflow of their love upon him.
Sadly none of them seemed to notice the ladies who were waiting silently for the proceedings to begin.
Oky presented his case that now that his grandma had died he felt that the mums should have custody of their children.
He said it was his grandma’s idea that he should not throw away his children for fear of the gods “badimo” turning their back on him.
He added that since he was the only child grandma wanted him to provide siblings for himself.
He concluded by saying, “Take your children bomma, I just can’t manage.
I will help financially …..if I can,” his voice trailing off non committedly.
The ladies remained silent for some time, examining my face in search of guidance.
Peo, the latest of Oky’s damage victims was the first to speak.
She spoke softly but pointedly and explained that she was yet to complete her O’levels, and as an orphan with no one to take care of the child, she was in no position to take the responsibility herself.
The other two ladies gained confidence and told the Kgotla that their children were taken at 6months and they knew no one except granny and their father.
At this point Okybecame restless on the bench.
Standing up to adjust his tie, he looked at his watch and stamped his foot in irritation.
His eyes were suddenly like flames of fire as anger and frustration melted in his head and he said “Jaanongnnabanabagatwekerengka bone” meaning “Now what am I supposed to do with these children?”
What would you do if you were the Judge?
Points to consider:-
It is quite clear that Oky was never dad for these kids, he was the brother figure for them but in reality he was their dad through the glorified ‘damage’ concept.
Grandma was a recycled mum and dad for Oky’s kids and she loved it.
Although we know that death is only a breath away, Oky relied on grandma to live long enough to accomplish her project of raising these children.
The damaged ladies basked in the free sunshine of a loving grandma and pushed their motherly duty into oblivion.
It was clear that Oky must now begin to mend all that he damaged in his youth.
His kids needed a father not a brother.
That he feels too young to be called “dad” is not their problem.
The social welfare officer was tasked to look into the matter and compile a report with recommendations of what would be in the best interests of the children.
What was learnt from the case was that the “tshenyo” concept does not apparently instil a sense of responsibility towards reproductive health in the difficult HIV/AIDS era, nor does it embrace the complex needs of the innocent child who needs both mum and dad to be there for him/her.
If we are to achieve zero infection any time soon, our culture must reinvent the wheel of sexual responsibility and delete the word “damage” and its ugly implications from our vocabulary and replace it with smart/planned parenthood.
As we continue to encourage youth to develop a sex culture of safety and responsibility, it is worth reflecting on the saying that sex is like a ‘drop of honey which attracts more flies than a gallon of gall.’
So much trouble comes to torment young people after the act of “damage” thatsomething needs to change. Towards our vision of 2016 lets pledge – No more damages – only good plans for a greater future.