My initial reaction was utter shock and criticism at what I thought was malicious and irresponsible behavior on the part of Jane’s family. Jane, who was aged 32, gave me her father’s mobile which was unobtainable because he had travelled on business. For about three days Jane was a permanent feature on the stoop of the portacabin I operated from. She would arrive at 7.30 and leave at 16.30 as she had pinned her hopes for a solution on the intervention of the Kgotla.
Finally Jane’s father returned from his business trip and reported to the Kgotla as we had left a message with his wives. I introduced the subject to Jane’s father with veiled anger in my heart as I had already developed prejudice towards him.
The facts were that Jane’s child had died and had been at the hospital mortuary for almost 10 days. The hospital authorities had referred Jane to the Kgotla.
As I confronted MrNsimbi, Jane’s father with all the painful facts, Jane was sobbing uncontrollably. MrNsimbi listened carefully and did not appear disturbed by Jane’s pathetic state.
When I had finished relating how Jane had to be supported by family to bury an innocent child, MrNsimbi gave Jane an assessing look and shot a question at her “Iwe; are you my daughter, and if so since when have I mattered to you as a father?” Upon hearing his Jane cried even louder in her desperation.
I had involved the social welfare officer to assist in this matter. Mr Nsimbi addressed us with gentle calmness and related his side of the story.
- He agreed that it was true he was Jane’s father
- He stated that Jane ceased to be his daughter the day she defied the family and ran away from home to marry a stranger they did not know.
- He said Jane had not communicated with the family for two years when things were going well before her husband had abandoned her
- He made it clear that he would not be dragged into Jane’s untidy business.
Jane was left with nobody to help except the kgotla and the social worker. MrNsimbi made himself understood and requested to be released as he had to travel on business beyond the border.
What would you do if you were the judge?
My eyes were opened for the first time to the power of culture as Mr Nsimbi presented his case.
- Mr Nsimbi was raised not only to be a man but to be head of his household and protector of his family.
- Defiance of his orders by his daughter for whatever reason constituted a very serious insult to him not only as head of family but as custodian of his cherished cultural values.
- The right to choose a partner that Jane preferred could only be enjoyed at a very high cost.
- Not only did Mr Nsimbi distance himself from the daughter’s troubles, but he ensured that none of the family members would assist Jane either.
The question is would you consider Mr Nsimbi’s attitude as lack of love and compassion or is it firmness of purpose directed by the cultural compass?
I understood Mr Nsimbi and I understood Jane too. She followed the dictates of her heart and in the process lost her identity as Nsimbi’s daughter. I tried to soft talk Jane’s father on the code of “botho,” but he stubbornly said parents must maintain a stricter love in order not to lose cultural identity.
It took another seven days for the social worker to process the request for a coffin from council. By that time the social worker and kgotla staff became family for Jane and buried the baby without the Nsimbi family.
The lesson I learned is that culture is not just about food, language and manner of dress, it the very essence of what individuals were raised to uphold and live for. It is deeply engrained and Mr Nsimbi was prepared to stick to his values at all cost, whilstit was equally true that Jane felt it was her right to choose a man she had loved and respected.
Mr Nsimbi refused to be controlled by Jane’s circumstances and Jane refused to yield to the pressures of culture. The two did not sit comfortably together and were bound to create conflict.
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