• The thorny issue of inheritance (boswa/lekata)

Of all the topics so far covered in this column, the issue of inheritance is arguably the one that has been most effected by the erosion of traditional values.

The question of inheritance (boswa) refers to property that was owned by an individual who has died, and has traditionally been treated with due reverence and respect tinted with fear. The fear came from the belief that dead people saw and had the ability to punish opportunists who grabbed what was not rightfully theirs. (baswi ba a bona).

In modern day Botswana it appears that society knows clearly that a dead ‘lion’ cannot harm the living (tau esuleng gae lome) and therefore many of the worthy principles that used to define how to distribute inheritance have been blotted out of memory.

We are emerging from a scenario where families survived on very little in terms of what individuals accumulated in their lifetime. Of course there were always a few individuals who were wealthy in any community who would have acquired slightly more than others. Nowadays there is more at stake and my case study this week illustrates what I consider a break down in values fuelled by greed and opportunism.


The middle aged woman cut a pathetic figure as she shuffled into my office, her head bowed and covered with the black scarf of one still mourning the loss of a loved one.

As I offered her a seat it struck me that this mourning gear was perceived by progressive thinkers as somehow unfair punishment to women because most men never wear anything to mark their loss of a loved one.
Ma Botshelo’s first words as she settled were “Nthusang batho nna ke tseelwa boswa jwa ngwanake ke ngwana wa nyats” (Please help me because a person born out of wedlock is grabbing my son’s inheritance.)

A civil case was registered where her grandchild Segametse would appear as (Moiphemedi) defendant. On the day of the trial Ma Botshelo came with a truck full of supporters and Segametsi was in the company of her mother’s sister.

Ma Botshelo stated her case as follows.

25-years-ago she heard from her late son Botshelo that his girlfriend had left their child Segametsi in his hands (Maagwe ngwana on ntatlheletse ngwana ka mabaka a support). Ma Botshelo went to the city to collect Segametsi who was just over a year old and took her to the village where she looked after year until age 25.

All the time Segametsi was left under her mother’s surname because the two families did not follow any of the traditional formalities of adoption (go tsala ngwana or go nyala ngwana). Sadly Botshelo died and left Segametsi in the hands of his mother and other family members.

Ma Botshelo got the shock of her life when the family went to the Shaa office to discover that Botshelo had registered Segametsi as the next of kin. This literally meant that the family were now housed by Segametsi. Ma Botshelo’s burning issue was that this ngwana wa nyatsi would become somebody.

(O tsile go nna motho ka dithoto tsa ngwanake) It was difficult for her to clearly state her case as she cried most of the time over finding herself in the kgotla before the official mourning period had closed.
Segametsi who sat quietly holding a lovely baby on her lap kept on saying very kindly that her grand ma should not cry.

Segametsi told the kgotla that everything nkuku Ma Botshelo told the kgotla was true. Her case was as follows:-

The only family she is close to is her father’s one because she learnt that her mother died shortly after giving her to Botshelo.
That although she never used Botshelo’s surname, her late father was called Ra Segametsi
She gently pulled out the funeral programme bearing Botshelo’s name as “Botshelo Ra-Segametsi which stated that he was survived among others by Segametsi his daughter and Keteng his grandchild.
That over the years she bonded completely with her father’s family and did not know much about her mother’s relatives.

That she was shocked by antagonistic remarks made by her aunts even before her father was buried. That nkuku Ma Botshelo became very cold and uncaring towards her for reasons she did not know but it was clear that the issue of inheritance redefined her as an enemy of the family.

Segametsi concluded by saying that she was prepared to give everything nkuku she wanted in order to win back her heart. After all she was the mother figure to her.
There was uncle Paulo in the kgotla who testified that Botshelo told him in the presence of his sisters and mother that in the event of his death, his family should continue to look after his daughter Segametsi and that they should give her all his things. Uncle Paulo raised a point in Setswana (Gakere moswi ole boleletse gore one a direla ngwana wa gagwe Segametsi) The deceased told you that all he ever acquired was for his daughter Segametsi.


These are the points to consider:

Segametsi is Botshelo’s daughter and she has a powerful bond with Botshelo’s relatives. Should Botshelo’s failure to formalize adoption discredit Segametsi as far as inheritance is concerned?
Does a surname define who should inherit?

Why does nkuku Ma Botshelo want to throw away the 25 year bond and the labour of love over inheritance? Instead of a son if Botshelo had been a woman would her daughter have suffered this prejudice?

The Judgement

Botshelo as the eldest son had acquired a Shaa plot and built to accommodate the family, which is very common in our communities. This attitude of love on the part of Botshelo or any bread winner who stands up for the family brings about a blurred sense of ownership. Botshelo recorded his daughter as next of kin and therefore his intention was clear concerning the plot and house.

With regard to insurances and other benefits Botshelo had divided them between his mother and Segametsi, giving the mother a smaller share.   Passing judgement was easy because all relatives confirmed that Botshelo declared verbally before death that Segametsi would be the beneficiary in his estate.

The interesting thing here is that Botshelo’s sisters were the ones engaged in a discriminatory attitude towards their niece Segametsi.  The court judged in favour of Segametsi and Ma Botshelo received counselling to embrace Segametsi.

Segametsi did not want to lose the bond she had with Ma Botshelo over inheritance. Segametsi was willing to let the family continue to live in the house as they did when Botshelo was alive, but the property would be registered in her name.

What the kgotla could not determine was whether the feelings of insecurity and the discriminatory name calling would continue after the judgement. We could only hope that reason would prevail.
Next week I will continue to write about boswa from another angle.

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