There are quite a number of idiomatic expressions that confirm that the older generation valued family life and would do all they could to ensure that what a man owns must be left for his wives and children.
There is a Setswana expression that says “lelwapa ke bogosi” meaning that a family is a crown, or words like “mosadi galase” meaning women are to be handled with care.
In recent years, our customary courts have been inundated with complaints of gross violation of women’s rights especially if the man who had undertaken to marry them dies before obtaining a marriage certificate.
In all too many cases families hide behind culture in order to steal from women and children who relied on a man for survival during his life.
You will appreciate the difficult situation that younger women have found themselves in as I share with you Pulantle’s devastating experience when she lost Pheko, her customary law husband.
I have encountered many distraught individuals but even I was shocked at the devastation and brokenness of the person who entered my office.
Pulantle settled heavily on a chair with a small brief case in her hands that apparently contained documents and letters that supported her complaint.
Her eyes told the story of the pain in her heart, her lips were pale and dry and a man who later introduced himself as her father followed close behind.
While Pulantle’s father was trying to catch up with the formalities of greetings and small talk about the weather and the drought, Pulantle was busy trying to undo the zip of the brief case in her hands.
Eventually she produced two small boxes containing the wedding rings that according to plans were supposed to permanently seal her love to the man she named as Pheko.
It emerged that Pulantle and Pheko were married and were blessed with a daughter with another baby on the way.
Both families had accepted them as a married couple and a date had been set for Lobolato be paid.
The wedding rings had been purchased but sadly Pheko passed away following a short illness.
When her in-laws arrived at her house, she thought they had come to pick her and the daughter to go to the village where the funeral arrangements would take place.
But instead Pheko’s family demanded the keys to all the vehicles the couple had.
When she resisted they began to show a side they had kept hidden, declaring that she would soon know who she was dealing with.
They then loaded as much as they could into their backie. Pulantle who was highly expectant with Pheko’s second child suffered a double shock from the sudden loss of a husband and provider to the hostilityof people whom she had previously related so well.
At the village Pheko’s relatives had gone to the kgotla and declared that their son was single at the time of his death and thus they received paper work authorizing his sister to close all bank accounts and be responsible for everything concerning the estate.
Pheko’s family had effectively pushed Pulantle and her child into oblivion.
Pheko’s family was invited to the customary court to explain their actions.
When they arrived they coldly explained that Pulantle was only one of the many girlfriends their son had – the only difference was that she shared accommodation with him.
The family denied patlo although Pulantle produced the letter that usually tabulates all the requirements for Lobola and her family gave verbal evidence that indeed they had given Pulantle away in marriage.
Pheko’s younger sister and brothers showed so much hostilitytowards Pulantle that herimmediate response was to burst out into tears.
She was not just feeling sorry for herself but was alsomourning the loss of money and property she had jointly invested in with her late husband.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE?
Points to consider:
* Most tribes if not all treat patlo (the asking for a wife) as the key element of customary marriage, but sadly in modern day Botswana there are people who will seize any opportunity to harass a woman whose marriage has not been finalized in civil marriage.
* Pulantle produced evidence that money collected from the semausu (turkshop) under her name was banked in good faith in the name of Pheko.
* Pulantle was able to prove through receipts that some of the grabbed itemsshe had bought herself, and as a matter of fact was still paying for them.
*Although Pulantle produced letters confirming patlo and the wedding rings, Pheko’s family claimed not to know any of the people who participated in the cultural ritual.
* Pheko’s family is not even prepared to acknowledge that the surviving child is their relative.
Although the family stubbornly denied ever participating in the patlo, the evidence of the letters was overwhelming.
I therefore had little hesitation in giving the judgment in favour of Pulantle.
The case is a reminder to all individuals who have chosen the long route to the alter that they stand to be rendered poor by a marriage that relies on the good will of relatives that might have other agendas.
The practice of writing a Will, which a lot of us resist, would come in handy in these difficult times.
What would also come in handy would be an adherence to basic human values of love, truth and right-conduct.