Think of domestic violence and most often the image that comes to mind is one of men inflicting pain on innocent women and children.
This week’s case study however illustrates how children get trapped into violent situations because of conservatism and the cultural prejudice of care givers.A shy but determined 12-year-old girl in primary school uniform had requested to see the kgosi and a lengthy interview followed at reception as to why a small child would come to report unaccompanied by an elder. I interrupted the interview and ushered the young girl into my office.
Her name was Tebogo and she cried for a good 45 minutes before she started to undress and show me how grandma Ma Gadzani had beaten her up with the back of a grass broom (lefeelo).
Tebogo was born and raised in town and lived with her dad Peter and mum for seven years before their relationship failed and her mum married Stephen when Tebogo was nine years old. All seemed to be going on well until three years later when Tebogo was playing outside their yard and she spotted Peter’s familiar red car.
She joyfully stopped her dad and they talked about her progress at school and other things. Back at the house grandma Ma Gadzani wanted to know who Tebogo had been talking to, and she innocently replied, “It was papa.”
The old lady got mad and started shouting obscenities at the child. Tebogo struggled to reconstruct what her grandma was saying but it was to the effect that, “We have paid everything for you and your mother and you should never address this man as papa.” For this Tebogo got a good hiding.
I consulted the social welfare officer who suggested that we should call on the parties for reconciliation as opposed to dragging the police into the matter.
At the hearing Grandma Ma Gadzani explained that she was simply ‘straightening out’ the child’s thinking. She expressed shock that Tebogo still had the nerve to call Peter her “Papa”.
The social worker submitted a report of her findings which explained that Tebogo could not be expected to forget the man she had lovingly called papa for seven years. She further explained the basic right that Tebogo should enjoy association with her father.
Grandma Magadzani was disgusted by the report. She was shocked that even when you have married the woman and her child according to custom, that there should be another father who should enjoy the right to be a father. She went on and on about how things had changed in modern times.
Peter was very apologetic about the whole thing. He explained how he was just passing as he had done before and did not realise that the child had spotted his car. He was sorry because his parents had told him to back off from the child now that the mother was married to another man.
Grandma Magadzani felt she had a good case and argued that the law should support her. Half of me agreed with grandma whilst the other half supported poor and voiceless Tebogo who was caught up between conservatism and natural justice.
What decision would you have come to?
Tebogo is an innocent 12-year-old who connects with the man she has known from birth till the age of seven as her father.
Tebogo was never consulted about the transaction that would affect her identity for the rest of her life.
Grandma Magadzani is not prepared to compromise on what she had learnt from tradition, (kgomo e nyetswe ka namane means the biological father loses the rights to be a daddy to a man who marries the mother)
Although Peter seemed to understand that he must let go of the right to be “Papa” to Tebogo, he was still paying P300 to Tebogo’s mum as maintenance.
In this case it was fortunate that step father Steven was supportive of Tebogo’s right to link up with her biological ‘Papa,’ and a conflict of rights and emotions was avoided.
There is a very serious clash between customary practices and human rights issues. Modern trends like cohabitation do not help the situation. In order to secure peace in the family there is a desperate need to reconcile our traditional practices with the modern choices the younger generation tend to make.
In families there are power dynamics playing themselves out, and I would like to urge families to reflect on situations that further expose children’s vulnerability to violence.
In Tebogo’s case she felt strongly that she had the right to natural justice, and young as she was she had the strength to fight. There is need to introspect as a society and work on those issues where there is a clash between customary law and human rights.
As Nelson Mandela famously said, “Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
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