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LEFT HOLDING THE BABY

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ASSESSING THE DAMAGE – A QUESTION OF PERSPECTIVE

Pregnant-black-woman-PFWhen 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’s Story

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.

THE HEARING

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.

5 COMMENTS

  1. A good observation Margret. However, I have a few things that I see as flawed, to me, the whole concept of go senngwa, comes across as a case of entitlement by somebody over the other, in this instance, Rantsho over Iswi, therefore I struggle to see the connection with & to “discrimination against women” unless you could kindly clarify that?
    Second point, I think, traditionally, parents (in the past) evoked this concept to seek compensation for the deflowering of their daughter, something which happens on frequently rare occasions these days. Only when the man seeks to marry the woman would he be required to pay thagela,which invariably means go senya ngwana (mosadi).
    I don’t necessarily think that parents are naïve about the sexual component of the relationships their daughters & sons engage in with other people, they just expect, or assume rather, that the said people will play safely. Should something come up,then motho o a bo a sente, not only the girl,but also the rules of the game. In short, I don’t necessarily believe that Rantsho was seeking compensation for the damages on Iswi as a woman, but rather on his “home” as shown in his comment, [Wantwa] o nthubetse lelwapa. He feels that the years he invested in the relationship should& do give him the right to call Iswi his wife, which to some degree can be a legitimate claim, seeing as we don’t exactly what he means by “both our parents know of this arrangement.” Could this be a customary marriage?

  2. I think the major problem that we have nowadays is the deliberate wrong interpretation of the Setswana culture to suit our own cause. This is normally driven by greed and a way to make a quick buck.
    Coming to the issue ya go duela tshenyo, traditionally this was done in the form of cow, which it was expected to be milked and feed the child that came as a result of the deflowering of the daughter.
    @ fyth; when you opted to marry, you were not expected to pay tshenyo but tlhagela which in essence was to compensate the parents of the girl for taking care of the child before you marry. A further scrutiny of the bogadi concept reveals that bogadi was paid as it was expected that mosadi o nnella botsetsi kwa ga bone, and the cattkle thus paid are for feeding the children during this period.
    Now coming to the story, Rantsho could not ask for payment ya ‘tshenyo’ from Wantwa but could rather ask for payment ya go ‘thubelwa lelwapa’. The tricky part is Rantsho and Iswi are not married and hence Rantsho cannot talk about lelwapa le le ka thubiwang. He can therefore not lay any claim to Iswi being his wife. Mma Mosojane rightfully asked ka ‘patlo’ which Rantsho failed to do. The fact that Rantsho and Iswi live together is of no consequences. In this instance, the only people who can ask for tshenyo are Iswi’s parents.

  3. In my opinion, the only claim that Rantsho could have made, was to ask the court to force Wantwa to help in the upbringing of the child that will be born. In this instance, he should instead have solicited support from Iswi’s parents, who understood that the two were staying together and this could have had fruitful results for him.

  4. – It sounds to me that Rantsho and Iswi are in Common law marriage (which I believe our country recognizes, and is so the world over-or in many traditions in parts of this world). Just the fact that indeed Rantsho is known to Iswi’s family is enough evidence that this couple lives like a normal married one.
    -Age isn’t stated here, coz if they are young people, tshenyo could rightfuly apply, but to Iswi’s parents. but here sounds like they are an independent grown up couple. Rantsho might be considering making Iswi his wife legally, and this pregnancy might affect his efforts. It has frustrated him, and the many years he has spent with Iswi could be compromised as well.
    -In modern law, if a man of Rantsho’s caliber leaves a long girlfriend, jaaka Iswi, the woman can sue him for wasting her tym asa mo nyale. Now if atlist lekgogtla le ne leka considera gore malatsi le botshelo ja segompieno temper with tradition, and that Rantsho has displayed that he is willing to settle with his ‘wife’, he is brave enough, others could have even killed for this.
    -Wantwa o tshwanetse go duela Rantsho, coz Rantsho ene otla duela baga bone Iswi nako e a tsayang tshwetso ya go mo nyala, otla duela tlhagela eo, mme janong o tla bo a e tsaya ka namane e e leng yaga Wantwa.