Whilst the passion killing of a married woman makes the front page of this week’s issue, another kind of married woman’s sacrifice is the subject I would like to touch on here.
The idea of offering anything from a cow to a chicken as a sacrifice to appease the gods or settle a family dispute has long been part of African culture.
But the kind of human sacrifice that I have witnessed over the years at the customary court involves individuals trapped in malfunctioning relationships.
These suffering souls offer themselves as willing victims under the belief that it is there duty to hold the family together in even the most extreme circumstances.
Ofcourse the other determining factor is that at marriage counselling sessions people are never offered quitting as a viable option.
All we hear are words like perseverance (o tiisetse) and the notion that suffering is part of married life, and best done silently.
Until the day she finally plucked up the courage to come to the customary court, for 20 years Luba had done just that.
Soft spoken and gentle, she trembled as she related the details of her troubled relationship, hesitating as the guilt of exposing her husband Japi, who she referred to as ‘Ntate’ (father), tightened her tongue.
With a lot of gentle encouragement she finally managed to expose the deep would of her marriage of two decades.
These were the points she made:
• In the 20 years of her marriage she had never been allowed to visit her parents except when they had funerals.
For weddings she would be told to drop a gift off and be back home within 2 hours.
• She had been forced to deposit 80% of her salary in an account whose sole signatory was ‘Ntate,’ but had no knowledge as to what plans were in place concerning that money.
• ‘Ntate’ would “chastise” (assault) her in full view of their teenage children who for most of the time would come to her aid and consequently even the children would get disciplined.
• ‘Ntate did not allow her the use of a car despite the fact that they owned two vehicles.
• Japi’s parents were so scared of him that they were reluctant to interfere.
• Luba had withdrawn many cases of assault from the police and even the complaints she filed with her in-laws were marked ‘obsolete’ and pushed into oblivion.
• Luba’s phone was not supposed to ring after 10pm for any reason, and besides the inbox was subject to inspection by ‘ntate’ regularly.
Luba’sshaking became even more markedat the prospect of the kgotla calling her husband to arrange a meeting.
But perhaps believing that some sort of magic wand could be waved to heal her life, she agreed to go through with the procedure.
I explained the mechanics of the scorecard that I used to help clients assess their relationships, asking her to evaluate her marriage before we could move on.
The scorecard measures the relationship in terms such as love, respect, trust, transparency, honesty, joy, peace, conjugal rights and financial support.
Sadly Luba was not able to give their relationship more than 2/10 on each point.
I asked her why she had settled for so little in her life and she said it was important for her to sacrifice to make ‘ntate’ happy.
She felt too that if she left him he would suffer and so might the children.
When Japi was telephoned for reconciliation, his response was enveloped in anger and arrogance stating that he did not need any third party to meddle in his family affairs.
But after a bit of sweet-talking he agreed to attend, although insisting that the meeting should not be in the presence of either set of parents.
Japi seemed shocked that after 20 years of what seemed to him a happy union Luba had so many grievances against him.
He did not challenge any of her complaints,merely explaining that as the head of his household he believed that in these ‘very trying times,’ he had to ensure that his wife did not get tempted.
It was as if he believed that Luba had signed a covenant to be a sacrifice by shedding not so much blood, but by giving her whole being to be manipulated.
He was shocked to see Luba’s rating of their relationship because he sincerely believed they had a unique and amazingly happy union.
Throughout the discussion Luba was soaked in a pool of tears as if releasing the agony of 20years.
In the end Japi agreed that there was a problem that had to be addressed now that he had suddenly discovered that Luba had expectations beyond what their marriage offered.
They undertook to involve their pastor to heal their marriage.
In this storya sharp contrast emerges between culture and survival in the stormy waters of modern day relationships.
If there are lessons to be learnt they can be summarised as follows:
• Group counselling at weddings (go laya) places emphasis on the strength to persevere and protect marriage at all costs.
• Individuals are not offered tools to ensure personal preservation, nor is any mention made of the legitimate expectations each has of the other.
• Luba had suffered silently for 20 years to be culturally correct because a ‘good’ woman is not supposed to expose the secrets of her house.
• Japi allowed his fears of the unknown to turn him into a control freak.
It is obvious that in this relationship that whilst the love/romance factor was put on hold, all the while the marriage certificate remained firm in its gilded frame.
A situation Japiexploited to the full.
We may have the legislation against domestic violence and grievous bodily harm, but the story demonstrates that no one must allow themselves to be a sacrificial beast on the alter of love.
Safety begins with self-care.