In real life it means that people will only divulge a certain amount of information and reserve that which they choose to keep.
There are many reasons for this theory, one of them being that total exposure attracts unnecessary prejudice. It appears our communities selectively report certain issues to the Police but there are certain issues they would rather handle at family level.
I think at the back of their minds elderly people think that they have always been competent enough in straightening certain things without the help of external forces and they are not ready to surrender all power to law enforcement officers.
This painful reality hit me very badly as I was trying to find the mystery behind a conflict involving Osetse and her aunt Wethu.
Wethu was a middle aged woman who desperately needed a solution concerning Osetse’s insolence and aggressive attitude in the home which made life unmanageable.
Wethu was married to Osetse’s uncle Wantwa and she had visited the customary court in the company of her mother in law and other relatives to seek reconciliation. Osetse was an orphaned niece of Wantwa who had been raised by her grandmother (Wantwa’s mother) in the same compound.
Wethu alleged that on many occasions Osetse had used insulting language towards her and shouted obscenities and somehow no one seemed to be in a position to handle her.
Wethu alleged that there was no peace at all in the home and family gatherings had not been able to resolve the problem hence she felt that perhaps seeking help from the customary court would heal their family’s disfunctionality.
As Wethu related her story, grandma was visibly restless and could not compose herself and on the other hand Osetse remained composed and as still as a rock and it was not easy to read her mind.
When Wethu had given a detailed account of their woes in their home, Osetse gave her grandma a warning look and announced ‘Nkuku tsatsi jeno ke tsile go ithola merwalo ya pelo yame’ meaning ‘this day I will lay down the burdens of my heart’ and to this, grandma warned Osetse not to scatter the family dirty linen in the kgotla, she must confine herself to the business of her insolence in the home but Osetse replied that ‘Nkuku setlhako se bolaya morwadi’ meaning only the person wearing the shoe can feel its pinch.
Osetse said she agreed with all that Wethu had said but there was something that made her very angry with all the relatives around her. She requested that she be given an opportunity to tell her life story which has shaped the character she is.
Osetse spoke softly with her eyes half closed and tears occasionally rolling down her cheeks, but not enough to disturb the flow of her words.
She revealed that her parents had died when she was very young and had to be moved to live with her uncle Wantwa and grandma but at her age of 13 years she had been defiled by none other than her uncle Wantwa.
The incident had left many scars as she conceived and had a baby that was taken from her and placed with other relatives.
She remembers many family gatherings to which she was not involved but what she would pick the words that her grandma had said repeatedly that “Lo seka lwa tshwarisa ngwanake, keene a njesang paletshe” meaning do not report my son who provides for me.
She could also remember her late mother’s younger sister shouting and leaving family gathering unceremoniously and declaring words like “tsatsi jeno ke tsamaya nae” meaning today I am taking her with.
It only became evident that it was all about her when her aunt ordered her to pick her belongings and come with her.
She stayed with her aunt for two years and when death tragically stole her Osetse had to go back to share roof with uncle Wantwa and grandma.
Osetse confirmed that she had harboured anger and bitterness and as she became older and wiser the anger within her was life threatening.
The only way to manage it was to make life difficult for the people around her who seemed to enjoy life.
Osetse said Wethu was an easy target for her because she seemed the only person who did not know the secrets that are carefully tacked away.
She wanted the customary court to put together the jigsaw puzzle so that she could be given an opportunity to heal. In all this disclosure, grandma’s mouth seemed to have run dry and an effort to wet it with her tongue seemed to fail dismally.
She would open it and close it with a word coming from it.
On the other hand Wethu remained very composed and when she spoke, to everyone’s surprise, she said family members have dropped hints which they refused to expand on when she followed them with the excuse that “ijoo re tshaba dikgole” meaning we do not want to be in trouble for this.
What would you do if you were the Judge?
POINTS TO CONSIDER
The family had come to seek advice on what appeared a trivial issue but a bomb exploded in their hands and making everyone panic.
Grandma had expected Osetse to behave like a typical village girl and just show remorse for her waywardness.
It was convenient for grandma to imagine that things that happened to Osetse as a child should not torment her as a fully grown woman and she had actually asked why Osetse remembers the old things.
To grandma the whole thing was so old and irrelevant.
Wethu did not appear surprised nor was she visibly shaken by the revelation that was made by Osetse, thanks to the hints that were made.
Osetse felt grateful for the opportunity to expose issues that have tormented her mind for over a decade, now that she had a mouth to speak for herself, exposing her wound was the only option she had.
She wanted relatives to reveal where her child went and that everyone should take responsibility for their actions so that she would heal and move on.
She felt the issue made her an unequal amongst equals. She hated the assumption that time could heal her just like that.
In conclusion, Wethu understood and supported Osetse and suggested that every family member must introspect and take responsibility for their wrong in the whole saga and apologise so that Osetse would heal.
Osetse was connected to a psychologist who undertook to work with the entire family unit to bring holistic restoration.
It may be true that if the incident had been exposed to the law enforcement officers, things would have been different but it was quite clear that uncle Wantwa too had lived in a prison cell of his soul.
LESSONS FROM THE STORY
Sex offences are the trickiest issues to handle at all levels, personal, family and community.
Although the law is clear about punishing offenders, it is quite evident that communities do not seem to appreciate the gravity of these offences and select to sweep them under carpet.
There is desperate need to develop user friendly tips to empower vulnerable groups to help them ward off attacks of a sexual nature.
Traditionally children were trained as early as possible not to accept food from strangers and communities today can develop culture friendly messages to warn children about sex offences as early as possible.