Statistics show that January is a peak month for suicide, so let me use my column this week to relate an encounter with a client who was close to adding to the depressing figures on both murder and suicide.
It was Tuesday mid-morning when a tall young man entered my office at the Tati-town customary court. He appeared agitated and unsettled, and not in a hurry to accept my offer of a seat. I gently asked if I could be of assistance and he mumbled something to the effect that he was losing time and he was not sure whether he wanted to talk at all. He said his mind was made and it was only a friend who had persuaded him to see nkadzikulukukhutha (the old lady at the kgotla) before he went about his intended business.
As he reluctantly settled on the chair, he hid his face in his palms and started sobbing uncontrollably. This both scared and confused me, for although I had comforted countless women over the years, I had not been taught how to handle a broken man. Nevertheless I hid my fear and softly told him that it would be okay.
When his sobbing eased and as he attempted conversation, I realized that his Setswana was very poor and encouraged him to speak the language he knew best. He switched to Ikalanga and told me that the reason he was so upset was that (nasindofangonondoyendanabo) meaning, “Today I will die but I am taking them with me.”
In his stumbling explanation he told how his wife Charity had become un-well from what appeared to bea witchcraft related illness since medical doctors were unable to detect a problem. He then decided to request a pastor who had helped many people in their township to pray for her. The pastor was happy to assist them and after a week Charity told her husband Takongwa that as part of the healing process they had been instructed to suspend sexual relations for some time. He said he had no problem complying with the requirement.
He was now shocked and angry to discover that Charity was three months pregnant and when he confronted her she confirmed that she and the pastor had sinned (takutjinyila).
While he was trying to deal with the pain of the revelation, Charity gave him a musical card in which she described how she loved her husband and quoted the words of scripture that prescribe that forgiveness is to be done seventy times seven times. Takongwa put the card on my table and as I opened it I was struck at how the music from the card contrasted bizarrely with the angry mood of the poor man.
I was just about to offer my motherly wisdom and words of encouragement when the still agitated Takongwastood up to announce that he had a plan to end the pain in him that nobody seemed to understand.
He then produced three bullets from his pocket in dramatic emphasis of his intentions, and said the gun was at a friend’s house. He said he would kill Charity, the Pastor and himself.
In addition he told me that he had already sold his car for P12 000 and deposited money for his 13-year-old daughter so that no other person would benefit from his death.
WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE IN THE CIRCUMSTANCES?
Despite my nerves I had the courage to remain calm and ask him if he sincerely believed that the money he provided for the daughter would adequately replace the love of a mum and dad.
I asked Takongwa to share with me his motive for killing. Was it love for the wife or hatred for the sin she committed? I was amazed by his response to this question. He became calm, and warming to the chance to talk, adjusted in his chair and said (nkadzikulundazhilakutimundibonese) “Old lady I am here to seek your advice.”
I related to him the power of forgiveness as I learnt it from communities that raised me. I told Takongwa that infidelity had always been there and it would always be here. No gunshot would remove it from our midst. I shared with him the knowledge that the old folks would prescribe forgiveness as the first option and sending his wife back to her parentsas the last and less favourable choice.
Takongwa asked for a glass of water after which he was very calm andfocused. I asked the young man if he would like to invest time in counselling and emotional healing, to which he agreed and started crying softly. But these tears were different. They were tears of hope.
I called a pastor friend and trusted councillor who collectedTakongwa and the twoworked for a couple of weeks together to move the mountain of muddle obstructing his troubled path. After that, many options opened up for Takongwa in which murder and suicide were nolonger reasonable solutions.
Over the years many men and women in such difficult circumstances have sought help and have been assisted in managing their anger. Revenge is replaced with hope and the belief that there is life and victory despite even the most humiliating and difficult of situations. The grave should never be an option when life has so much to offer.
There is power in forgiveness. Self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others opens doors to unconditionallove. There is help out there. Many counselling centres exist to help you achieve inner healing and peace.