Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
As early as chapter two of Genesis, God sets down HIS simple instruction on marriage.
And man has been dealing with the complications ever since.
If I had to label the three major concerns that clients bring to the customary court, they would fall under the headings of love, sex and family.
All three are connected in the title of this week’s column – a translation of the vernacular ‘kemonkanengmosadi (Chifonkadzi)’ – an expression for which, strangely enough, there is no male equivalent.
The story of Maloapi, a lady who patiently and faithfully remained ‘almost a wife’ for 14 years,might help put a finger on the pulse of such gender bias.
Maloapi presented a very organized person in all respects as she entered the kgotla.
Only the blue headscarf covering her head seemed to distort her fashionable suit and profile.
It occurred to me that she could be mourning a child or a parent, but as it turned out the poor young lady was grieving more than just the passing of a loved one.
Not only had she lost Raki, her ‘almost’ husband and father of hertwo children, but her life investments had also been buried with him.
And all she got was a blue scarf as if to reward her for her lack of wisdom.
In giving her an apology that she would not be given full mourning gear, Raki’s family were not only making the point that she was not really his wife, but as she later realised were stripping her of any rights she had invested in their economic union.
And as if that was not enough, Raki’s nephews and nieces accused her of exploiting their uncle and then killing him – calling her moloi in full hearing of all and sundry.
In telling her story Maloapi cried inconsolably,messing up the neat make up she impressively wore.
In-between the tears the following points emerged:
• When she met Rakihe claimed that the mother of his twin girls,born out of the earlier relationship, had kicked him out.
• Maloapi and Raki had built a house on his mother’s plot with the promise that it would be transferred to her son as he was soon to marry.
• Maloapi had bought 6 head of cattle branded by Raki’s brand.
• Maloapi had resuscitated Raki’s dying cattle post and built a small hut and paid the herdsmen who worked there.
• All this was done in full view and approval of Raki’s family who always said to her (kana o setse o le mosadi) meaning you are now a wife.
• Raki became unwell and as his health deteriorated, Maloapi noticed a change of attitude by her ‘almost in-laws.’
• Raki died and his family rekindled their kinship with the twin daughters from the other woman, who by then were independent.
Maloapiurgently needed to meet with Raki’s family over her investment in the relationship now that her ‘almost’ husband had been laid to rest.
Raki’s family came in the company of their son’s daughters from his previous relationship.
After hearing Maloapi’s story, in defence they answered with the following barrage:
• The family were adamant that the house Raki built was for his mother, and had nothing to do with his estate. Consequently there was no way Maloapi could lay claim to it.
• Raki’s family claimed that it was doubtful Maloapi even knew where the cattle post was, and her claim to have purchased cattlefor it was fictitious.
• Raki’s family maintained that the twins from the former relationship would share the cattle with Maloapi’s children.
One of Raki’s uncles, who according to Maloapiwas already wearing the deceased’s jacket, remarked that Maloapi was young and would find another man.
When asked why they gave her a blue scarf, he unsympathetically waved his hand and declared – “ reka go apolalefaelekamoso” (meaning we can take it back tomorrow).
There was no way Maloapi could sustain a fight for animals she bought only to be branded by her lover’s brand, so she agreed thatthe cattle be shared amongst all the children.
She also gave up the fight to claim the house she financed and built on Raki’s mother’s plot.
This is a case scenario that has played itself out in the lives of so many young people that I have given it the title, ‘Romantic Fraud.’
Although we have a Vision 2016 pillar that promises care and compassion, in the hearts of many there is only the scorn and hatred that makes a celebration out of injustice.
There is an idiom that says ‘love is blind,’ but if we are to avoid the deception that leads from romantic notion to romantic fraud, then it is time for love to open its eyes.
In Maloapi’s case all she was left with after 14 years as an ‘almost wife,’ was a blue scarf and un-provided children.
This I believe is very much a modern thing – traditionally one could only be stamped wife/engaged/single.
In recent years parents have had to coin the new phrase in order to cover for the embarrassingly long courtship that has become a norm in modern day Botswana.
With many couples choosing to live together instead of marry, our love lives have changed drastically over the past few decades.
But the law has yet to catch up. There is an urgent need for laws to recognize the rights of what westerners call, ‘the common law wife.’
It is imperative that individuals become assertive enough to post romantic and financial issues in different ledgers of the love account.
Some way dismiss the marriage contract as ‘only a piece of paper,’ but it is a legally enforceable document in the eventuality of divorce and death.
And if you wish to replace it, there is a need to have an equally enforceable document by making agreements on specific matters, for example, how a jointly-owned house is shared.
If you’re living together and don’t want to see a priest, my advice is to see a lawyer instead.