FILE PICTURE: A typical example of Patlo unfolding

In response to several requests from readers to address the issue, my column this week takes a look at customary marriage.

Although there appears to be some confusion in this matter, the older generation had developed watertight principles in order to establish standards for proper customary marriage.

In those days it was not enough to talk ofpatlo,the partiesresponsible for arranging the marriage had to be well-established relatives whose connection to the future groom was well known.  They also had to be people who were in a position to give the chosen one a character reference.

Our visit to the customary court this week serves as an illustration of how over the years the younger generation has abused the system in order to serve their ever-shifting lifestyle patterns.

In this case the complainant was a woman who came from one of the neighbouring countries accompanied by a minibus full of in-laws.  Mrs Zitha had come to lodge a complaint that her husband of 15 years had come to Botswana for business opportunities and in the process had established another family here. She told how, acting upon information given to her, she had ambushed her husband at his second home where she discovered he was a daddy to three-year-old twins and a husband to a woman named Opelo.

When Mrs Zitha confronted Opelo, she informed her that she had been married to Mr Zitha for four years and had been issued with a customary marriage certificate. The frustrated woman had no choice but to go back home and request her in-laws to cross over to Botswana with her and seek clarification from the kgotla.


A date of reconciliation was set and all the parties requested to attend.  Mrs Zitha led the discussion with the support of a copy of her marriage certificate, and evidence from her in-laws who gave verbal testimony that they knew her as their only daughter -in-law.

Opelothen told the kgotla that her relationship with her husband was a love at first sight affair, and within three months of meeting they had discussed big business plans.  Opelo had secured loans from the bank and Mr Zitha came in with his professional experience. The couple established a good business with Opelo as a major shareholder.

Within the first year of their meeting Opelo was expectant andMr Zitha sent a delegation to her home village and bogadiwas paid.  Opelo revealed that her husband had told her that he was an orphan, raised by a grandmother whom he had to visit each month to give food supplies. Despite her requests,he had never wanted to go with Opelo to see the grandmother. It was a situation that had worried her for some time, but when the twins arrived the children completely absorbed her attention.

As she spoke Opelo’s parents sat quietly in shock and embarrassment as the truth about their son-in-law unfolded.

I then requested Mr Zitha to enlighten the kgotlaover what had happened.  He took out a white handkerchief and wiped a tear that had escaped from his eye, and released a yawn that reflected not so much his tiredness but his acute embarrassment.  He cleared his throat to speak, but words seemed to have stuck in his throat as all eyes were on him.

After another round of throat clearing he eventually found voice enough to stammer…. “Mmm I’m sorry, especially to my parents who came from very far….. You see in this tough economic situation I had to do something as a man to put bread on the table now mmm……”

There was silence for a long time in the kgotla eventuallybroken by Mr Zitha’s uncle who wanted to addressOpelo’s parents.

Question:  In Botswana do you allow anybody to appear and ask for a wife?

Answer: Nowadays yes – There are uncles for hire in the townships for this kind of thing.

Question:   If you give your daughter to a hired uncle is the marriage legitimate?

Answer:  It is difficult to answer that one.

Question:  Now that we have come in great numbers and we tell you that we know nothing about this Botswana wife and children what do you say?

Answer:  We say we were fooled.


Mrs Zitha from across theboarder has a certificate and the parents know her and they have never heard of the new Mrs Zitha of Botswana.

Mrs Zitha of Botswana also waives a customary court marriage certificate witnessed by friends and hired uncles.

The parents of Mr Zitha feel strongly that the kgotla should simply declare the Botswana customary marriage null and void as it was entered into fraudulently.

Opelo is visibly stressed, not so much by the prospect of loosing a husband, but rather over the investment she made in a joint venture with Mr Zitha.

In judgement it is obvious that Mr Zitha was out to cheat, defraud and play games with Opelo. But he is also thefather of lovely twin girls, one of whom is named after his mother who was not even aware that he had another family in Botswana.  Zitha’s marriage to Opelo is a non-starter as he was already married back home.  His paying of bogadiwith hired uncles and friends is a fraud.

Interestingly as the matter cameto a close Zitha’s parents declared that they would like to see the children, saying thatthey were innocent and shouldn’t be dragged into the mess.  Mrs Zitha did not appear impressed by her in-laws gesture, but she knew better than to complain.

A lesson from this story is that we need to be vigilant when we receive people to arrangepatlo.To avoid abuse of the system many communities demand a letter from the Chief verifying  the status of the groom.

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