Over the years in my Customary Court work it has become clear that the most significant factor tipping the scales of genders politics to the disadvantage of women folk is the issue of children.

It does not matter whether these children are born in or out of wedlock – the bottom line is that when the relationship breaks as it often does, it is mostly women who are left holding the baby.

In previous articles I have written about how the older generation managed reproductive health to ensure that parenthood did not ambush them at awkward times. In modern day Botswana there has been a social shift that has brought about a carefree attitude resulting in the use of phrases like “a re dire ngwana” (let us make a baby). This request is often made without regard to how long the couple have been together, their economic or marital status or even if they truly love each other.

Let me share with you the tragedy that brought Khumo to the kgotla. Young though she was, she looked tired and broken as she made her way to my porta cabin office, head bowed with the weight of a toddler strapped to her back and another clutched to her arms. From her eyes you could tell that many tears had stood there as she began her sad tale.

Khumo had known Farrow for a year and a half. He had no job and six months into their relationship he moved in with her. Just before the second anniversary of their relationship Farrow turned  “ a re dire ngwana” into a chorus that he would even back up through constant SMS messages.

Eventually Khumo succumbed to the pressure with the simplistic view that as Farrow had called the tune he would be ready to dance joyfully for the baby when it showed up.  The pregnancy was not easy and then to their surprise the couple discovered that they were to be blessed with two kids for the price of one. Farrow tried to survive on some peace jobs but with Khumo’s health failing due to the heavy load she was carrying, she took early maternity leave. As the economic pressure mounted, Farrow spent less and less time with Khumo.

The babies arrived – Same and Baone and the joy of their arrival seemed to breath new life into their parents – but not for long. Khumo finally decided to do what she ought to have done in the beginning –find out more about Farrow. With a little digging she was devastated to discover that Farrow was not only a serial heart breaker and a maintenance dodger, but also the missing father of two children in another town.

Khumo then made up her mind to get Farrow out of her life, although the now unwanted lodger used every argument to resist eviction. The anguished woman needed help to remove Farrow who maintained that being the father of the twins gave him the right to come and go as he pleased, even if he was as Khumo pointed out, a ‘useless’ dad.

When the couple arrived on the day set aside for the hearing, the encouraging sign was that they each carried a child, at least giving the appearance that they were happy parents. I was surprised at the elegant attire of the youthful Farrow, who one might have taken for a city executive had Khumo not disclosed that she was the one who had brought him the expensive clothes.

To my relief they were accompanied by their parents, which always lightens the burden of reconciliation.  Khumo repeated her story, again relating the picture of Farrow as a loving man begging for a child, but later turning into a monster that did not care for the children he had asked for.

Farrow agreed to all the facts Khumo raised without question, even adding that mmagwe bongwanake  (the mother of my children) had provided the very clothes he was wearing that day – a fact he demonstrated by standing up so that the assembly could fully admire the effect. But as far as Khumo was concerned all she wanted was to see the back of him.


The points to consider are that Khumo had been emotionally robbed since she assumed Farrow’s ‘a re dire ngwana’ (let’s make a child) was a sugar coated marriage proposal, or at least an indication of a desire to settle down in a lasting and stable relationship.

In reality the request was far from a marriage proposal despite Khumo doubling up on her side of the bargain by giving him twins. A point that the two little bundles chose to emphasise as they chorused ‘papa’ just at the time when he was more interested in the court’s decision than their demands for attention.

The scene provided a poignant reminder that being called “ papa” demanded more than a mere physical presence. The role required commitment and the desire to provide not just materially but to love and nurture the relationship. Farrow seemed delighted to play the role of ‘papa’ in Khumo’s house at those moments when it pleased him to be there, whereas Khumo was ‘mama’ 24/7.

In conclusion the kgotla granted Khumo her request and recommended that Farrow move out and make arrangements to visit the children and give financial support.  To this he retorted in an angry bark: “Lotlhe lo itse gore gake iphe sepe” (You all know that I am poor).

The more I hear cases like this the more I realise that  “a re dire ngwana” is a multipronged sword which both activates the dormant heart of a lover and provides the glue that will permanently seal a young girl to a man.

The presence of a baby provides a bargaining tool for the uncommitted “papa” and may provide ownership to  “mmagwe-ngwanake” (the child’s mother).

Some may consider my stance mere prejudice on my part towards these ‘modern trends’ – but I strongly believe they are a threat to equality and a heavy chain that binds women to poverty.

If we are to achieve gender equality, the time has come for all of us to change the lenses with which we view relationships.  We have a duty to take a look at the patterns of relationships that have only served to enslave, and have the courage to develop patterns that will give individuals power to determine their destiny.

It is a journey of self-discovery, and having found the Self, the truth will set you free.

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