Home Columns Mma Mosojane's Traditional Wisdom THE VOICE OF THE DEAD



THE-VOICE-OF-THE-DEADIn most African languages there is an expression to the effect that the voice of the dead must be respected.

This seems to explain why a lot of us are reluctant to plan will writing as we think we will have time to verbalise our wishes to people around us.

The younger generation on the other hand have coined another expression that suggests that, “dead men have no teeth and the living must eat for them,” hence the greed and property grabbing which is rife nowadays.

This week’s story from the customary court is an illustration of what I mean.

It involves Tseleng, a woman devastated by the attitude of her paternal aunts (borakgadi) when they suddenly tried to push her out of a plot she had called home for over 20 years.


Tseleng’s father Dick had never married Lalu her mother but they had enjoyed what sophisticated people call a “universal partnership” or marriage by repute.

When Dick died the family insisted that Lalu wear the customary blue mourning dress for three months, and to a certain extent Lalu felt that the blue attire had sealed her children’s right to inheritance.

Dick had expressed his wish that their youngest daughter Tseleng should be the one to inherit his plot in town and his two sons should share his eight head of cattle.

He made his declaration known to everyone who came to visit him before he died.

Tseleng who was seven at the time of his death continued to live with her mother on the property which was still in her father’s name.

When Tseleng was 22-years-old her mother started seeing another man and this led to problems with Dick’s family.

There were murmurs to the effect that Lalu must vacate Dick’s house and find herself a place to say with her new found man.

It was then that Tseleng took the opportunity to discuss transferring her late father’s plot to herself since she was now of age.

Dick’s sisters, who had always agreed that their brother had given the plot to her, now started shifting the goal posts.

They argued that since Tseleng was still using her mother’s maiden surname, it would be wrong to allow her to inherit their brother’s piece of land.

A civil case was registered against aunt Rati who represented Dick’s family and was requested to show cause as to why they would not transfer their late brother’s plot to his daughter.


Tseleng appeared in the company of a host of Dick’s uncles who supported her claim to the plot based on the knowledge that hehad made such a declaration on his deathbed.

She told the court that she failed to understand why suddenly the aunts resisted transferring the plot because her mother was never formally married to her father.

Upon completion of her account, her aunt Rati requested permission to cross-examine.

Question:Are you aware that Lalu your mother was just Dick’s girl friend?

Answer: Lalu was not ‘just’ a girl friend because you made her wear a blue dress after my father’s burial.

Question:Can you tell this court the names in your National Identity Card

Answer: TselengMatlapa

Question:The plot you wish to inherit – in whose names is it registered?

Answer: Dick Mawatle

Question: Do you really feel our family should release this property to you and why?

Answer: Because you told me that my father verbally expressed that I should take it and I have lived in the property for over 20 years without your objection.


Rati told court that Dick lived with Lalu for a long time and they considered it a family plot where all family members would be accommodated.

Rati told the court that her brother became demented and made a number of confused statements including the fact that Tseleng would be the one to inherit the plot in his absence.

Rati claimed that none of the relatives took Dick’s dying wish seriously as he was notformerly married to Lalu.

There was another round of question and answer as Tseleng cross-examined the aunt.

Question: Are you aware that I have been living on my father’s property for over 20 years?

Answer: Yes

Question:Why did you not query my occupation of the property?

Answer: I was not worried because the property was still in my brother’s name.

Question:Do you remember telling me to evict my mother and her new man from the house?

Answer: Yes I remember all that and I had hoped that you would change your surname to Mawatle.

One of Dick’s uncles had been disturbing the proceedings since he was obviously not quite pleased with Rati’s attitude.

He requested to speak and he spoke softly but confidently that Dick had told all and sundry that his property in town should be given to Tseleng(gasesephiri -meaning it is not secret).

He concluded his brief account by adding in Setswana, “lesang go jelabanabamoswi” – meaning stop depriving the children of the deceased.


After considering all the points discussed there was overwhelming evidence to the effect that Dick had made his intentions known before he breathed his last, and as such Rati’sresistance did not carry much weight.

I therefore had no hesitation in declaring a judgment in favour of Tseleng.

It is worth noting that although a lot of people are reluctant to tie the knot or formalize their relationships, they naturally treat children born out of these relationships with love and respect.

It is therefore imperative that individuals close all doors that might expose the people they love to exploitation by merciless relatives.


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