One of the principals of customary law is the expectation that it will conform to morality as understood by ordinary folk.
There are times however when I wonder if there are any ‘ordinary folk’ left out there.
As we strive to resolve the many relationship conflicts brought before the court, it becomes clear that life hasbecome less community centred and more an individual battle for survival.
Greed and mistrust have replaced traditional values in the new order, which is much more to do with the survival of the fittest rather than the protection of the vulnerable.
That ‘ordinary folk’ are reading from a new script is clear. In the past we might have labelled women as the “weaker sex,”but the truth is that over the years women have gained a lot of emotional and social muscle that makes them a bit more complex to handle.
As I share with you this week’s story, you will see that the term “weaker sex”is far from a one size fits all description.
Beauty had lived with Stan for over 15 years and they were blessed with two fine daughters.
By way of introduction she told me that she grew up orphaned.
Her mother had died when she was small and her dad was never there for her, but somehow she had made it in life.
She was an astute and hard-working businesswoman who sold a range of goods from firewood to second hand clothes and fat cakes.
She had even ventured into ordering cars from abroad to re-sell them in Botswana.
She made it clear that she got involved with Stan because she wanted children, but the subject of marriage was far from her mind.
She had even told Stan not to dare discuss the subject of marriage.
Beauty and Stan lived in one of her houses and she never even complained about sharing rent.
There was even a time when she acquired a second car for their household, and Stan suggested that it be registered in his name since his company had offered to pay mileage for his business trips if he had a car to his name.
Beauty had trustingly obliged and the ownership of their second car was transferred to his name.
Although she never claimed a thebe, it was a nice little earner for her man and no questions were asked.
But six months into the arrangement Stan started taking longer trips and spending time away from home.
He developed an appetite for attending beer festivals beyond their locality and many other entertainment activities.
This did not go well with Beauty who gently asked Stan to make a plan to spend more time with the girls as her business trips often kept her from home.
As they were trying to sort out housekeeping rules, Stan became sick and was admitted to hospital and that opened a can of worms for Beauty.
Stan’s family descended upon Beauty’s life like a swarm of bees demanding that Beauty had to give them their son’s ‘property’ since they could no longer tolerate Stan remaining “sekukuru” in her house.
Beauty had pleaded with Stan’s family to be patient so that they could sort out things when Stan came out of the hospital.
Sadly Stan did not make it.
His family then ganged up against Beauty with all sorts of accusations, demanding such things as his bankcard and insurance policies.
“Re batladilotsamoswi” became a chorus such that Beauty”s children wanted to know who this “moswi” was.
The hearing was held even before the burial, which made the experience even more traumatic because culturally death is supposed to be a solemn and respected occasion.
Stan’s mother rambled on and on about how her son had invested in Beauty’s life and how she was being so selfish as to want to strip their son poor, taking advantage of the fact that dead men cannot talk.
They failed to understand how a man of Stan’s stature could own nothing except the vehicle that Beauty was trying to deny him.
As the mother presented her story, his sisters were calling Beauty names like thief,mosadimogolo, legodu.
Beauty did not seem to have the energy to hit back. She would open her mouth but no words emerged.
That encouraged Stan’s sisters who said “ijoommone o palelwakegobua” meaning look at her she cannot even speak.
When she did find her voice it was to speak briefly, giving an account of how the car was registered as part of an arrangement between the two of them.
She opened her briefcase to produce an agreement that had been professionally drawn, signed and witnessed to the effectthat Beauty financed the purchase of the vehicle but it would be registered in Stan’s name.
That seemed to make the gang less rowdy, but it was only a moment before one of Stan’s nieces said
“Golo mo ke pampiri fela gae bue sepe” meaning this piece of paper says nothing.
Beauty told them that she had taken out a funeral policy for herself and Stan and therefore she would help with funeral expenses.
Stan’s mother seemed to be relieved but not her aggressive children and grand children who ridiculously demanded to know whether Beauty had anticipated their brother/uncle’s death.
What would you do if you were the Judge?
There were only a couple of points to consider.
The registration book of the car conclusively reflected ownership of the car, although Stan’s family were certain that Beauty’s claim over the vehicle was false.
The agreement Beauty produced disarmed Stan’s family more so that Stan had been boasting to his nieces and nephew that the vehicle was his.
There was therefore nothing to prevent the judgement being found in Beauty’s favour.
Time has come for love affairs to be matters of the heart and not of the purse.
Equally true is the fact that times have changed so much so that even men are beggars of “molora” – love gifts.
If the womenfolk must rise to a position of equality, they must re-write the script of survival, avoiding stereotypes that have dominated relationship for too long.
But within that process morality and fair play should not be negotiable. Some things should never change.