The Celebration of Botswana’s Independence has just passed, and after 48 years of self-rule Ifeel compelled to take a look at what is left of family relations after the battering they have taken from modern pressures.
Traditionally the maternal uncle is regarded as the most treasured relation, and equally true is the fact that nieces/nephews are the apple of their uncles’ eyes.
It was something I thought about when choosing the story of Uncle Mpuse and his niece as this week’s case from the kgotla.
It is a prime example of how the love for money and the culture of pawning has distorted family relations and numbed the soul in modern day Botswana.
Uncle Mpuse was the only surviving member of the family and he had lived with his niece Neo in a home that was built by MmaMpuse.
Apparently the place that Neo called home for many years and took the trouble to renovate and improve, Uncle Mpuse saw only the possibility of turning the home and its contents into a cash cow.
The most devastating aspect of uncle Mpuse’s destructive patterns of behaviour was that all the money he obtained after pawning household goods was used to make his life completely unmanageable through alcohol abuse.
He was shaking and incoherent most of the time, and that made him very abusive to his niece Neo who was also his only next of kin and caregiver.
Neo’s patience was overstretched when Uncle Mpusearrogantly announced one morning that he was planning to dispose of the house they lived in since he was the sole heir to MmaMpuse’s inheritance.
As Neo was reeling with shock, her hard-hearted uncle threw yet another bombshell by declaring that he wanted her to find alternative accommodation within the month.
Neo composed herself and reminded Uncle Mpuse that she had added value to the house by connecting electricity and water and had improved it since she had completed the walling of the property.
To this the old man gave a sarcastic laugh and again insisted she leave the property, taking with her ‘improvements.’
To add to Neo’s insecurity a strange car drove into the compound and the visitors announced that they had come to view the property for sale.
Neo tried the traditional strategy of calling the family together to discuss the issue, but when they arrived Uncle Mpuse in his drunken stupor was almost impossible to understand, speaking to the old people in a mixture of gibberish and English, leaving them no choice but to seek the help of the kgotla.
AT THE KGOTLA
Neo arrived in the company of relatives with Uncle Mpuse who seemed in hot pursuit staggering out of a taxi to join them.
Some senior family members led the discussion explaining that they needed guidance concerning the developments.
Uncle Mpuse made a point of correction and interrupted the senior citizen’s presentation, but the kgotla prevailed upon him to be quiet and listen.
When the opportunity arose and with a great struggle as if pleading with his legs to support his thin frame, he stood up to make his point.
With a slur he shot a question at Neo.
Question: Whose house are you complaining about?
Answer: It is a home grandma left for us.
Before Neo could add to her response, Uncle Mpuse rudely interrupted her and said, “You called her grandma, but I called her mother – can’t you see the difference?”
Neo retorted, “But my mother was MmaMpuse’s child and I can claim my mother’s share.”
By this time Uncle Mpuse’s thin frame was wavering like a reed blown by the wind, but he managed to utter the words“tau e sulengga e nameno”- meaning that a dead lion never gets a share.
Neo stood up to request that if Uncle Mpuseintended to sell the house he must remember that there was an investment she made on the property and it must be valued to ensure that she gets compensated.
Neo also believed strongly that she was entitled to her mother’s share of the property.
At the kgotlathere was an aged, grey haired man who was identified as MmaMpuse’s brother.
His eyes shone with the wisdom of King Solomon and he spoke gently but forcefully to the effect that what MmaMpuse left behind was a home and not a house and there was no way that Mpuse could sell it.
He poignantly went on to describe the difference between a home and a house.
He said according to customary law people cannot sell a house that other family members regard as home.
At this Uncle Mpuse stormed out saying that he was bringing the discussion of the day to a close.
As he went he released a jumbled succession of English legal terms whilst declaring that his lawyer would take the matter up.
In modern day Botswana people can kill for money and position.
The treasured relationships have been replaced by greed and power.
Although Batswana say “losika galeke le kgaoga” meaning nothing can break the bloodline of relatives, how does healing take place after such action as Uncle Mpuse contemplated in evicting his niece?
There are just some things that money can’t buy.
I trust you had a Happy Independence week.