I am convinced that “change” is the most elusive and difficult thing to manage.
We live in a fast changing world but somehow nothing prepares us to formulate relevant responses to match the “change elements” that confront us with the same speed that change seems to bombard us.
This explains why individuals struggle to validate theories that are obviously no longer relevant to complex modern day situations.
Much as traditional values seem to present what we may call “excess baggage,” modern day quick fix solutions are equally not easy to digest and are not always user friendly.
According to the tradition and cultural practice of most tribes in Botswana, an unwed father has no child and the matter rests there, hence our Setswana expression that says “ngwana o mogolo kwa gaabo mogolo and the Ikalanga language says “nzekulu ithaba” meaning that a person receives honour from his maternal relatives.
This thinking is being undermined by modern day values that are driven by freedom of expression and the right to choose that most young people demand.
A good percentage of young mothers believe they can surrender their children to fathers who are willing to rise to the challenge of fatherhood.
Their reasons are many and varied.
They range from socio/economic pressures to the desire to be free from baby care and all its woes.
As I share with you the dilemma Mma Tsela found herself in, you will appreciate how difficult it is to embrace modern concepts about child rearing as they stand in sharp contrast to traditional beliefs.
Mma Tsela’s Story
The elderly woman had received a summons issued by the customary court wherein Bushi, her daughter’s lover, wanted her to show cause as to why she may not surrender custody of his daughter Lodi to him.
As the trial began my heartbeat quickened because of the anxiety brought about by my own cultural prejudice.
Masking my own emotions I read out the summons to Mma Tsela who sat next to Bushi with a twisted smile that had little to do with harmony.
Instead her expression seemed to convey not only her indignation towards Bushi, but also her shock at how our society had changed in her lifetime.
When she was asked to plead Mma Tsela politely said she was not guilty of any wrongdoing and requested Bushi to present his facts.
Bushi said he had been going out with Tsela for over four years and they were blessed with a baby girl Lodi. Bushi had looked after Tsela throughout the period of expectancy until the baby was born.
He took responsibility for the confinement and did all that a father could do with the zeal and excitement of a first time dad.
Tsela’s parents presented a damage bill for six head of cattle that he had gladly paid.
At the payment ceremony that followed Bushi’s uncles had presented an unusual request, asking that they be allowed to have Lodi so that her father could freely make all provisions for her.
Bushi assumed the request was just a formality because Tsela had already agreed he could have Lodi. He assumed that settling the damage bill came as a guarantee that he would have his daughter with whom he had bonded straight from birth.
In what was something of a shock then when Tsela’s mum got involved and insisted on altering what had been agreed with her daughter.
A bitter argument that had also involved the police included a barrage of insults aimed specifically at Tsela’s mum.
Bushi believed strongly that the customary court should resolve this crisis. After his presentation of the facts Mma Tsela requested to ask a few questions.
Mma Tsela: I hear you tell the court that Tsela gave you the child?
Bushi: Yes she did
Mma Tsela: Does Tsela have any right to donate a child?
Bushi: Yes of course she is the mother, so why not?
Mma Tsela’s Facts
In response Mma Tsela presented her own set of facts.
She agreed with Bushi concerning the confinement issue and how he had been responsible.
She confirmed that Bushi’s parents had paid damages and even presented their request to be given Bushi’s daughter, but the response from Mma Tsela’s family was that the request came as a surprise.
She told the anxious father that the family would need to consult extensively before giving an answer.
Mma Tsela then gave an account of how Bushi, irritated by the delay, had insulted her.
To emphasize her shock, her eyes reddened and tears threatened to flow unchecked as she described what she called “botlhodi” – the unspeakable insult that Bushi had thrown at her.
She gave an enquiring look and said “ke bue fela” – meaning should I repeat what he said to me?
After being given the go ahead, she turned her eyes to the floor and repeated the offending words to the court.
Bushi had apparently told her, “Gake a robala le wena ke robetse le ngwana wa gago” – meaning ‘I did not sleep with you for Lodi to be born, but with your daughter.’
Mma Tsela concluded her account by saying she would not part with Lodi simply because her daughter saw fit to donate (go aba ngwana) the child to Bushi.
What would you do if you were the Judge?
Points to consider:
* Traditionally this is a matter that would never have gone anywhere near the customary court.
But now in the interests of freedom of expression it is necessary to open doors to individuals who believe that they are being short changed by what they perceive as “archaic” and outdated values.
* It is not culturally correct for “a person who has damaged your daughter” to take care of confinement (baya botsetse), but in this case Bushi did something exceptional and at the time the custodians of culture and tradition did not raise an objection.
* Bushi like many young men in modern day Botswana believe that payment of damages is a transaction that must give the father something…at least the right to be recognized as the father.
* The arrangement between Tsela and Bushi is put to a severe test as is clear that the parents of the child cannot just agree to custody issues.
* The rude and unfortunate statement made by Bushi about how Lodi came to being does not help his case.
* Mma Tsela is standing on a firm “cultural rock “ which cannot just be shifted by the provisions of modern provisions concerning the rights of the child.
Traditional wisdom could not find grounds to rule in favour of Bushi, and reasons to uphold the elderly woman were not difficult to find.
Payment of damages does not bring any entitlement for custody nor does taking care of “botsetse” remove culturally accepted principles.
The court reconciled the two parties and made Ma Tsela aware of modern provisions of children’s rights. She was encouraged to let Bushi have access to Lodi especially taking into account that he was not one of those fathers whose absence is put down to being “hit by a train.”
He had been there for his daughter in a loving and responsible manner and denying Bushi access would torment a child who is not in a position to convince society to embrace a new culture of acceptance.
It is encouraging to see a new breed of men who do not disappear or abdicate the heavy burden of raising children to women.
The ‘changed’ man is what our society needs to remove the label ‘caretaker’ from women who for many years have been disadvantaged by single handedly raising children.
In the end it is not about people resisting change – it is about people resisting being changed.