ASSESSING THE DAMAGE – A QUESTION OF PERSPECTIVE
When affixing the label ‘Discrimination Against Women’ I sometimes wonder if the tag can be used to hide moments of female weakness as much as it does to expose the power wielded by the so-called stronger sex.
It is the concept of “to be damaged” (go senngwa) that really got me thinking along those lines if you follow my argument.
Much as it brings a positive protective value, it is equally true that it removes responsibility and self-determination on the part of the ‘victim.’
Focus is directed towards the one who damages as if the damaged individual is a passive recipient of the incoming bullets.
At the same time there is no doubting that over the years womenfolk have gained incredible power to the extent that the traditional concept of being damaged may have to be marked “obsolete” and be sent to the archives.
Perhaps the point will become clearer as you join me at the Customary Court where I will share with you Rantsho’s rather unpleasant experience.
Rantsho began his story by relating how an elderly, married and irresponsible man had destroyed his wonderful relationship of 12 years with Iswi.
He was at pains to convince me of how a certain Mr Wantwa had taken advantage of his unfortunate circumstances.
As he talked me through the details he smiled awkwardly and I sensed some mischief on his part but I kept silent as he continued.
He told me that he had responded to the call for safe male circumcision and it was during the 6 weeks recovery break that Iswi, the mother of his two children, fell pregnant.
Upon confrontation she revealed that it was Wantwa.
Rantsho confronted his rival and demanded that he should confirm what his wife had confessed.
Wantwa admitted having had a sexual relationship but doubted if he could have made Iswi pregnant.
Rantsho then demanded that if Wantwa paid him some large amount he would let sleeping dogs lie and just continue with Iswi and see how they would raise the child.
Apparently the married man initially agreed to settle but for some reason he stalled and it later became evident that he was reluctant to pay.
Then raising his voice for emphasis he added: “Ga ke mo tlogele monnamogolo yo, onthubetse lelwapa” meaning – ‘I will not leave this old man alone – he broke my family.’
I gently asked Rantsho if he had done “patlo,” the asking for a wife. He seemed to weigh up the implication of my question with a prolonged ‘umm’ before admitting: “No – but you see we have been together for a long time and we have two children and our parents are even aware of this set up – so I think eh…..we are a family and I can sue the old man.”
When he sensed that I was not convinced he had a case against Wantwa, he said, with slow, deliberate emphasis on each word: “You know “kgosi” this is how people get themselves killed.”
The words had a chilling effect and I decided to act swiftly and invite Wantwa for reconciliation.
When I gave him a call, he was one of those difficult guys who initially said he preferred that he be addressed through his attorney, but after skilful handling he promised to show up the next day.
Wantwa arrived and had clearly gone out of his way to dress elegantly in order to impress that he was an important somebody and to intimidate anyone who may not be sure of his status.
He seemed uneasy at first but when I sugar quoted my greetings and made small talk about the heat, he relaxed and settled into the matter at hand.
Rantsho was equally anxious and gave that pre-emptive throat-clearing cough that suggested how tough the matter would be.
He began by telling the court how much he respected Wantwa, but he has no choice but to discuss the embarrassing issue before the court.
He again related his story and on occasions made reference to Iswi as his wife, quickly changing it to “her” mmaagwe bana” by means of correction.
Wantwa seemed to enjoy the confusion Rantsho was displaying, before he ending his presentation by saying: “Ke ne kere re buisanye o ntuele tshenyo ya mosadi wame jaaka one odumetse” meaning – ‘I simply want you to pay me for damaging my wife as we had discussed.’
Obviously Wantwa had done his homework well.
He responded briefly by admitting that he had had an affair with Iswi, but as far as he was aware she was a single girl and available to anyone out there in the market – so the issue of ‘damaging a wife’ was out of order.
He added that if at all he had made Iswi pregnant, they would have to do a DNA test after the birth of the child and he would take the matter from there.
Rantsho then requested that he be given a chance to ask a few questions:-
Question: Did you not agree to compensate me for ‘damaging’ my wife?
Answer: Initially I agreed but I have since found out that you are just a boyfriend and not a husband.
Question: Are you aware that I am known by her family?
Answer: Yes but you are not recognized as husband culturally.
Although visibly irritated, Rantsho had no more questions and decided to rest the matter there.
What would you do if you were the Judge?
Points to consider:
Rantsho has no right to sue Wantwa because traditionally he is just a boyfriend and has not even paid damages to Iswi’s parents.
His demands for compensation are therefore somewhat opportunistic because he is not culturally recognised as her husband.
Rantsho made it clear that Iswi should be left out of the discussion as if she was just an object he owned.
In the end Rantsho had to accept the bitter truth that he was not Iswi’s husband and therefore the customary court was not in a position to come down heavily on Wantwa.
The number of years invested in a relationship without taking steps to define it, do not earn any bonus points in customary law.
It is quite evident that compliance with safe sex is not anywhere near a level where it will give the nation zero infection.
It is equally disturbing that Rantsho treated Iswi as an object for sale when he should have maturely worked on his relationship to try and find an amicable solution before shooting at Wantwa demanding compensation he did not deserve.