CULTURAL-VALUES-AND-CUPIDS-ARROWSThis week as we celebrate the Valentine magic my column explores and exposes how a one-day wonder of love can trigger a chain reaction that is likely to make a permanent dent in the life of an unsuspecting individual. 

Let me take you to a customary court case and share with you how an 18-year-old girl broke her grandmother’s heart while she selfishly drowned herself in the celebration of love.

Wasala had lived with her grandma Mandebele since she was three months after the tragic death of both her parents in a road accident.

I met the old lady as she sought assistance from the Customary Court concerning her missing grandchild.

Mandebele ‘s Story

Grandma Mandebele was apologetic as she explained that she had been forced to make a first appearance at the kgotla due to circumstances beyond her control. 

She gave a brief profile of her granddaughter Wasala and how she had struggled to raise her to be a hard working, woman of virtue.

She said all was well until the young girl got involved with a young man with a red car that had started to drop her off from school.

She related the day Wasala had come home from school and ignored all her responsibilities.

She seemed to be in a hurry and emerged from her bedroom dressed from head to toe in red.

According to grandma the only thing that was not red was the bulging white bag that Wasala had stuffed with her belongings.

The girl had asked for permission to go out for a meal with a ‘friend,’ to which Mandebele had reluctantly agreed.

Alarmingly Wasala never came home that night. The grandma then went to the police to report Wasala’s disappearance, but they explained that given the circumstances of her leaving the house, they could not treat her as a case as one of a ‘Missing Person.’

As the days passed the grandma also had to explain to the school authorities why Wasala, who was a promising form V student, was absent from school.

Eight days later the youngster reappeared in the company of an aunt who had come to plead with grandma not to chase her away, and when pressed to reveal where she had been gave family members the name of a man called Nchi.

In response the old woman wanted this Nchi chap and his family to be dragged to the customary court to account for his irresponsible act.

A date was set for Nchi to appear but he arrogantly informed the court that he did not consider it necessary to drag his parents into the matter and produced a letter from his attorney saying that if there were an issue for him to answer his attorney would have to be there to represent him.

Traditional wisdom had to prevail upon Nchi and explain that there was not a charge against him but that he had to be reconciled with the girl’s grandma according to custom.

Reluctantly he sat down and allowed the court to do its business.


Grandma emotionally related her complaint highlighting how she had raised Wasala from childhood and was adamant that an adult who had finished school should not derail her education.

In her tirade against the man she branded as ‘irresponsible’ she also included the possibility of HIV and pregnancy.

This did not go well with Nchi who stood up to say he had not come to the court to be insulted by a ‘senile old woman’ whose way of thinking he described as being trapped in the 18th century.

Once again traditional wisdom had to be applied to sooth Nchi who had become now become very hostile.

The other point grandma struggled through tears to push through was that according to culture Nchi should have come with his parents who know the custom and would appreciate that their son’s reckless behaviour was something for which they would have to pay a cow or two.

Grandma finished her presentation by saying “ Ijo gao masisi mosimane ke wena, oka ipeela ngwanangwanake hela jaana” meaning how dare you just take my grandchild and detain her like that.

Nchi then requested that he be allowed to ask one or two questions, and the following exchange occurred.

Nchi:     Do you know that Wasala is an adult according to law?

Grandma:     Ga ona maitseo  (you have no manners.)

Nchi:     Do you know that Wasala made her choice to remain in my house for a week?

Grandma:     Ijoo kana ke rile ke batla batsadi ba mosimane yo fa (By the way I said I want your parents here.)

Ignoring her demands he told the court that he and Wasala were adults who were free to fall in love.  He kept on making reference to Wasala as ‘Wassy’ much to grandma’s great irritation and anguish.

He concluded that the girl would not fail because of one week away from school and indicated that he could not see what all the fuss was about.

What would you do if you the Judge?

The points to be considered are that grandma has a relevant point according to customary law.   It is taboo to keep someone in your home without proper consultation with the family.

The age is of no consequence.     Grandma is justified in her concern because Wasala must finish school and prepare to leave the family nest with dignity.

The old lady’s anger and frustration is culturally justified. She also rightly fears the possibility of HIV infection and unplanned pregnancy, which has altered the destiny of so many unsuspecting victims.

According to the customary law of most tribes in Botswana, what Nchi did was unacceptable.

Nchi is also right that Wasala is an adult and able to take informed decisions about her person before the law.

In judgement Nchi was made aware that first of all we are tribesmen and as such subject to customary law.

He was made to appreciate that Wasala cannot just come and go as she pleases because grandma has legitimate expectations that Wasala must comply with a certain code of behaviour which is compatible with their culture.

Nchi took time to consider the weight of what had been said before somewhat reluctantly nodding and asking to be forgiven.

In this story there is a sharp contrast between customary law and civil law.  Whilst we want to say our culture is our heritage, there is a lot to be done to preserve and to protect cultural values.

It is my opinion that while we have the right to celebrate love, we also have the responsibility not to disrupt family life and peace.

Perhaps this is a point to ponder at the time when Cupid, the winged cherub of love gets ready to point her arrows of desire as couples celebrate this Valentine’s Day.

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