At the confluence of two flooded rivers, when the mighty waters converge into one, there is an explosion of water that threatens to sweep all that lies in its path away.
It is an image that came to mind as I thought about this week’s story from the kgotla, dealing as it does with the coming together of traditional wisdom and modern reality.
The theme is one that runs through many of my weekly contributions, reflecting a society in which tradition and reality are pushing each other for first place.
Sadly tradition is more often than not bulldozed out of its place, leaving people to pick up the pieces of a broken culture.
As I relate Mosoko and Lorato’s story you will appreciate that the right to be loved is fast replacing the principle of “itshokelelenyalo” – meaning just persevere for the sake of marriage.
The younger generation want more than just a home – they want romance, holding of hands, flowers on their birthdays, and dare I suggest it –a celebration of physical intimacy.
Mosoko had hired a bus and filled it with both his relatives and Lorato’s family, giving the driver a command to stop at thekgotla.
Arriving like the supporters of two rival football teams, too many to house in the cramped quarters of my portacamp office, the opposing groups were led to the leobo (the traditional structure for meetings).
There was an atmosphere of tension as the complainant Mosoko, rallying his supporters, set the ball rolling, immediately going on an all out attack, self-righteous and arrogant, against the hapless, startled Lorato.
Mosoko’s main points were:
• He paid lobola for Lorato and she was brought to his village where he built a 2 ½ house for her outside his parents home.
His generosity had even extended to putting in a standpipe and connecting electricity.
• When he left to go and find greener pastures abroad, he left Lorato with their baby “at the breast” as the Setswana expression would say.
• He sent money to support Lorato for the first two years, and then when he ran into some problems he failed to send money.
• Some time later he got a letter from Loratoexplaining that she could not live alone and had gone back to her parents.
• Now he has returned to an empty house and an empty heart, for not only has Lorato left, but has since become involved with another man in a different village.
• He demands the kgotladrag the marriage destroyer before an assembly of adults to answer for his evil and irresponsible act.
• He would like the kgotla to rule that Lorato’s parents be told to pay back for the jackets, suits and cattle they received from him if they are not able bring their daughter back to the matrimonial home.
Lorato’ssupporters were made up mainly of youthful people as she had been raised an orphan, but among them there was a young man who was obviously very impatient to have his turn to speak.
He moved restlessly on the small steel chair that struggled to contain his bulky frame, tugging at the sleeve of his suit jacket, making sure the “Viyella” label was visible for all to see and understand his status.
As he stood up, Mosoko glared at him, incredulous that his challenger would dare to defend Lorato’s gross misconduct.
The young man introduced himself as Uncle Joko and requested to ask Mosoko a few questions.
Q: Why did you marry my sister?
A: To build a home with her.
Q: When last were you at home?
A: Ehh …mmm I think it was 5 or7 years ago, but I was sending money.
Q: Does money speak?
At this Mosoko became visibly angry and gave me look as if to suggest I should object to the remark on his behalf. When none came, Uncle Joko continued the questioning:
“Do you want your family back, or do you just want your lobola?”
Mosoko gave a look at Lorato, who had obviously moved on with her life,and after no more than a heartbeat of a pause, barked out the words “ke batla bogadi jwame”- I want my Lobola.
Q: What about Modisa – the child that was on his mother’s breast when you left, and is now doing Standard 2, and does not even know who you are?
The words seemed to act as a body blow, leaving Mosoko speechless and even draining away his anger as he looked over at the child that was with Lorato’s delegation and did not seem to know any of his own relatives.
Loratothen requested to speak and explain her side of the story.
Her argument was simple.
She would be prepared to pay back what Mosoko paid aslobola if that was the only way she could buyher freedom back.
She explained that she was in another relationship, her child knew the other man who was now taking care of the boy, and she did not want to confuse her child with this stranger.
She explained that she had lived alone for four years and nearly lost her mind from loneliness and supressed physical needs.
And in all that time she did not even know what Mosoko was up to – wherever he was.
Her concluding words that “she too had rights” brought a furore of vocal objection from Mosoko and his family that threatened to disrupt the kgotla in a riot of anger.
Their mood was not improved when at last there was some order and I explained that traditionally lobola is not returnable especially where there is a child.
Mosoko just had to swallow that bitter pill.
In conclusion Mosoko was advised to register for customary marriage divorce so that the couple could have a proper closure.
Many debatable points arise from this story.
The institution of marriage has been forced into transformation by reality.
Society is forced to say goodbye to the days when men married women and went south to Joziknowing that all would be well upon their return from the ‘City of Gold.’
Absent husbands now have a greater price to pay.
Young women are not prepared to settle for an empty bed and pocket money – they want more.
They have taken a social u- turn and refuse to be treated like commodities for sale whilst men still want to take things for granted, thinking they are indispensible.
Perhaps in these days when T’s and C’s apply to almost every situation in life, it is time for the terms and conditions of Lobolato be part of the small print at the back of the Customary Marriage Certificate.