The election is over and as the Daily News announced in their celebratory headline – “BDP Marches On.”

Whether that translates into ‘Botswana Marching On’depends very much on how MP’s from the three parties ‘bed down’ together in their marriage of (in) convenience.

But the idea that the resulting ‘love triangle’ could determine the country’s future got me thinkingabout this week’s story from the kgotla, and how the transition era has placed tremendous pressure on the cultural practices of different tribes in our motherland.

Ndizo’s story

Ndizo had been running from one office to the other trying to undo the web that Gumbo had put her into following his death.

When she appeared at he kgotla she was wearing the green mourning gear that was obviously poorly tailored by some village dressmaker.

Ill-fitting as it was, the elders nevertheless thought that it would confirm her position as the recognized wife.

It emerged that Ndizo’s matrimonial contract to Gumbo was through ‘Nkumbo’ (eloping with your lover in the night and leaving some bank note under the floor mat).

The convention is widely practiced in Bakalanga communities with subsequent rituals following to make it recognized.

The couple went on to build a family,but some years later Gumbo found a job some 500kms from the village.

Then on one of those once in a while visits home, Gumbo announced that he had found someone to wash for him, and they had two children together.

Whilst for some the revelation might have been earth shattering, in Ndizo’s case the news was greeted with only a shrug of her weary shoulders.

Traditionally a woman is not expected to bash her head against a wall just because her man has strayed to warm another woman’s bed.

But what Ndizo did not know at the time was that the woman had become Mrs Tseo Gumbo through civil marriage that fact was only discovered upon Gumbo’s death.

When the news broke the uncles recognized that Ndizo was the one to ‘lie down’ for him. But when it came to the administration of Gumbo’s estate, Ma Tseo waived a certificate that she claimed entitled her to half of her husband’s estate.

Ndizo could only waive the approval of the uncles and the fact that she was the one declared the official mourner and was made to wear the green gear.

The uncles acknowledged Tseo as a friend of Gumbo who could be given something from his estate for the children – butNdizo would hear nothing of it.

Counting out the inventory of her property on outstretched fingers, she first of all maintained that the cattle they had were a special gift from her in-laws called ‘Mamanyegwa’ and included some she had bought herself.

And there was ‘no way’ she was going to share them with Tseo.

Then the car, although registered in Gumbo’s name,had been paid for from earnings from her various business activities.

The plot in the city was still in the name of Ndizo’s parents and could not be claimed by Tseo.

When she got to the fourth finger, Ndizo pointed out that although she had no problem with Tseo being given a portion of Gumbo’s terminal benefits for the sake of the children, she would not agree to her getting a share of his estate.

Ndizo desperately needed a reconciliation meeting with the uncle’s to sort the matter out.

She maintained that customary marriage was out of community of property because it was potentially polygamous hence she did not raise an objection when Gumbo announced the presence of his washer woman friend because she believed that it would not expose her to any material loss.

The hearing

There was such a sharp contrast between Ndizo Bani in her ill-fitting mourning gear and the elegant Tseo Gumbo in her cream white suit.

The washerwoman wife was no mere domestic servant, but a sophisticated, elegant lady who emphasised her credentials by continually renewing her lipstick and checking the time on her Blackberry phone. She stated with the self-assured certainty of one knows, that she was the rightful heir to her husband’s estate.
For her part Ndizocontended that she was married to Gumbo according to Ikalanga‘Nkumbo’ marriage and that their union was out of community of property.

She could only share her property with Gumbo and not with Gumbo’s other women.
Tseo, who was in the company of her parents, asked to see Ndizo’s marriage certificate, to which by way of reply she pointed to the group of grey haired men who sat silently behind her.

Tseo asked Ndizo why she did not change her surname if she was indeed Gumbo’s wife. Ndizo countered, adding the sound effect of a sarcastic laugh “What’s in a name?”

At this point, and with another time check and smear of lipstick, Tseodeclared that the discussions were a waste of time and that Ndizo would be hearing from her lawyer.

She then picked up her bag and hurried out of the kgotla leaving the rest of us to chew over the following points.

  • The myth that some cultural practices became obsolete at Independence and therefore ‘Nkumbo’ must be frowned upon emerged from the camp of some family elders.
  • Others from the more traditionalist side felt that every tribe must uphold their cultural practices and these must be respected.
  • Depending on which side of fence you are, two scenarios emerge: (i) Gumbo escaped being charged for bigamy by dying(ii) Ndizostatus only extended to wearing the green dress and being the mother of the children.

Somewhere between the two options there is a gap created by cultural misconceptions into which woman like Ndizo have fallen.

Whilst she might enjoy the justice driven by the traditional collectivism of the uncles who stood behind her, her claim would be vulnerable to the onslaught of Tseo’s lawyer.

Perhaps it is time for those in high offices to have the courage to declare “nkumbo” outdated and barbaric.

In the march towards 2016 one hopes that there will be harmonization of cultural practices in Botswana to make sure that there is justice forall  no matter which political party holds the balance of power.


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