Although SA president Jacob Zuma has done his best to reverse the trend, it was only during the colonial era that plural marriage was perceived as taboo,
Traditionally in Africa polygamy has existed as an aspect of culture or/and religion.
But whilst multiple marriages are constitutionally illegal, the idea of multiple mating will continue to be as popular as ever for as long as sexual appetites remain unchecked.
Through my Customary Court work I have observed that modern man still courts the polygamous attitude of his ancestors.
The gene that makes him fly from flower to flower like a bee stubbornly refuses to die.
The modern laws designed to protect the rights of children seem to have opened a door for men to operate more than one household in the name of “kana molao ware ketlhokomelengwana” – meaning ‘the law forces me to look after the child.’
Women too who get involved with married men have become more assertive than ever, thanks in no small part to the intrusion of the mobile phone.
My train of thought will become clearer as we explore this week’s customary court case.
Ntshese had been married toKotlo for over 15 years and they had what was considered a normal, if not ideal marriage.
Things changed when Kotlo developed a new method of operation concerning his mobile phone.
Whenever it rang he would visibly panic and walk longer distances to answer it -his conversions masked in muttered undertones.
This naturally made Ntshese somewhat uncomfortable and suspicious, especially as he too seemed more withdrawn and tense than in the past.
In her resultant insecurity Ntshesedesperately looked for clues that would confirm her suspicions.
Her efforts went without success until one night when her husband got a call around 3am.
Before he could react she grabbed the phone and answered, an intervention that resulted in the angry response: “Gake battle wenammakebatla go bolelarraagwengwana gore ngwanawagagwe o pitlaganeebilekebatlakoloi go moisasepeteleng”-meaning ‘I don’twant to talk to you but to the father of my child because the child is not well and I need transport to the hospital.’
There was a moment of stunned silence before the recriminations began and a massive argument followed.
Physical blows were exchanged which made Ntshese phone the police. Their investigation exposed the root of the fight and as they were preparing to draft a charge, they referred Ntshese to the customary court for us to assist the couple in finding a way forward.
Kotlo was requested to attend Kagisanyo, a reconciliation meeting.
He came in the company of his uncle MalomeSepora, who had acted as “raditsela” during the marriage arrangement.
Kotlo cut a pathetic sight since he obviously had not escaped unhurt from their bitter fight two nights before.
He had scratches all over his face as if he had had an encounter with a nursing lion.
Ntshese gave a brief account of the situation that had led to the ugly fight,during which MalomeSepora interjected by asking:“Aommagao bone gore o batlile go bolayasetlogolo sesame, fa o mongapilejaakakatsejaana” – meaning
‘Do you realize that you nearly killed my beloved nephew with your cat style fight.’
The wife ignored the uncle and completed her presentation.
Kotlo had no question and remorsefully admitted every detail of heraccount.
He confessed that he had been unfaithful although he thought that like every other man “keneke re keaikutswa”– it was his entitlement, then this mishap occurred.
It emerged that the child was now four years old and her mother had become irritable and aggressive, demanding amongst other things financial commitment and threatening to take action with the magistrate’s office for support.
The embattled Kotlo remarked: “Totafelagaamphekagiso”- meaning ‘as a matter of fact she does not give me peace.’
Ntshesethen requested to ask questions:
Ntshese:Now that I know about your daughter how do you plan to proceed with two households?
Kotlo:No lovey, It’s not like that – it is not two households.
Ntshese:Kekopa gore onkarabeolese go mpitsakamainaasengame– (Please answer me and stop calling me names like ‘lovey.’) Don’t you knowyou have ignored the “break the chain” health warning in these difficult times?
Kotlo: Nnyaammaabototalona lo nna lo gopotse di-Aids felakagoreng? (Not really – you should not be obsessed with Aids issues).
(MalomeSepora had shown an increasing excitement hecould contain no longer and I granted him time to talk before he exploded).
Malome: Bona fa Kgosi (look here Chief) when I put on my shoes to go and ask for a wife I did not know I was bringing a wild cat into the family.
What my nephew has done is not taboo at all. Kotlo has not killed anyone – actually he has given us an increase.
I am very angry because this matter should have come to me first before my nephew was dragged to the police to be fingerprinted like a common criminal.
Gake rate (I do not like this) Kotlo has only done what normal men do and it should not provoke such a big story.
Ntshese:Malome do you know that nowadays there is a health issue called HIV/AIDS?
Malome:Ee, keautlwakadiradio, ammeKotloona le bolwetsejojwa radio(I have heard through the radio about Aids, but is Kotlo suffering from this sickness of the radio?)
Ntshese:Malome do you know thatKotlo and I have a common purse and if he must take some money to the other household I will loose?
Malomeseems taken aback a bit and he refers a question to Kotlo.
Malome: “Monna le wenaodirilejang o kopanelasepache le mosadiwagago. O tlaaitshikinyajang.
(How could you my nephew have a common purse with your wife – it means you don’t even have room to turn).
Ntshese took a minute to tell the uncle that unlike other women in the same situation she did not want to sue for marriage wrecking.
She feels there are too many players in their small field and would rather opt out to give Kotlo room to play his game with the other woman.
She announces her intention to sue for divorce.
MalomeSepora is visibly shocked. All he can sayis: “ Asesosangwanyana” (What an idiot of a girl).
What would you do if you were the Judge?
Points to consider:
In this scenario, transition issues stand out clearly.
- Ntshese is not a passive participant in her marriage.
She is a powerful woman of the 21st century who feels she must confront and deal with the matter at hand.
- She is insecure about the other woman and feels entitled to exclusive rights to the man who made a vow to love and support her alone.
- Kotlo thinks if you play “every man’s game” and you get caught you must be excused because every man does it.
He also has an “entitlement mentality” that leads him to believe that the worst that can happen to him is to be forgiven.
- MalomeSepora has a “carried forward” mentality from his past, and he is not about to let go of what he knows.
He believes the whole thing is a big fuss by a girl who must be ‘sent back’ to her family to be given proper counselling on how to run and maintain a peaceful home.
He is a traditionalist whose views had formed and hardened long before the appearance of mobile phones.
Although the matter had come before the customary court Kotlo still had to wait for the police to finalise the criminal case that was separate from the social implications.
Whatever the outcome of that was to be, Ntshesewas adamant that they had come to the end of the journey of their marriage unless Kotlo could put in place a comprehensive plan to keep Mmaagwengwana from disturbing their peace.
Our courts each record an average of 15 such issues per week.
In a country that is struggling to achieve zero HIV infection and reduce domestic violence, these cases are a reminder that family relationships require well thought out strategies.
There is a need not only to heal, but also to develop new concepts on what it takes to build a harmonious family.
It there was to be reconciliation between Kotlo and Ntshese attitudes would have to change if their relationship was to be regenerated.
It would not be an easy birth.