Much of my work at the customary court has been concerned with the administration of justice and the principals of fair play.
Looking back I can say, with a degree of sadness, that for every successful conclusion, there has been an alarming number of disappointments.
Of particular concern has been the issue of gender equity, especially the rights of the girl child.
In all the talk of Vision 2016 I wonder if the noble principals envisaged there will eventually inject a sense of love and respect for others.
I am particularly concerned to see a reduction in the devastating and permanent scars that come after unsuspecting schoolgirls become the objects of momentary enjoyment for the adults who are supposed to protect them.
Statistics reveal it is women who remain at the bottom of the poverty scale and equally true is the fact that the majority of gender based violence victims are women and children.
This week my story will highlight how Masa got ensnared into a doomed marriage andbecame an object of scorn and ridicule inflicted by none other than the man who made her a school dropout at 15 and offered her marriage to dodge a criminal charge.
This story will explore how the curse of poverty, poor health and violence can cling to an individual just because they are of the so-called ‘weaker sex.’
At 25 Masa had just gone through an acrimonious divorce when she visited the kgotla.
A sweet little girl, who was sadly born with some disability, accompanied her.
She related how after being defiled by the man ironically called Teacher, both the man’s parents and her own held continuous consultations.
Young and vulnerable though she was, she understood that she was the subject of their discussions and her fate, like an animal at auction, lay in their hands.
Eventually a decision was reached that Teacher would marry her and indeed a customary wedding took place.
This marriage was more between the parents as there was no romance between her and Teacher.
She painfully remembered how she continued to call her husband Teacher, only for her mother in law tochide her and instruct her to call him ‘RraagweTsitsi’.
Sheremembers women wearing blankets harping on the same tune that she must have high threshold of patience.
“Oitshoke, mosadioaitshoka”(a married woman must withstand all conditions) which she did until she woke one morning heavily sedated in the ward of a mental hospital.
Although there was never any joy in the marriage,Masa gave birth to three children.
Sadly the youngest was born with a physical and mental disability and this fuelled Teacher’s anger and aggression towards her.
That was only one incident in a catalogue of abuse that the young girl had to endure.
• Teacher reminded Masa everyday that theirs was a marriage of convenience because of the mistake he made.
• Masa was a subject of cruel beatings and emotional abuse.
• Teacher denied Masa conjugal rights with the excuse that she might bring forth another child with disability.
• Teacher reminded Masa on a daily basis how cumbersome it was to be tied to a ‘donkey that cannot pull the wagon of life’ because she could only be employable at Ipelegeng.
• Masa suffered mental disturbances and was in and out of mental institutions.
With the help of some compassionate well – wishers Masa managed to successfully file for divorce.
What ensued was a bitterquarrel as Teacher tried to contest the ruling by raising ugly grounds against her.
This was compounded by the myth that according to customary law the one that files for divorce is automatically guilty of abandoning the home regardless of causes.
Sadly the proceedings implied that because she could no longer bear suffering she was the guilty party, a notion that her parents supported.
The court granted her a divorce but she was ordered to keep custody of the disabled child despite the fact that in her poor status she could not afford the high care costs the child demanded.
Her husband was to pay her some maintenance money and ensure that he would build her a home because they had built their matrimonial home in the compound of her in-laws.
As fate would have it, Teacher had not implemented the High Court order and Masa had been running from one government office to the next in search of an illusive answer to her problem.
Masa’s story brings out the tragic reality that court orders do not always work for ordinary women, especially where there are no time frames and alternatives to direct individuals to where they can go in the event of non compliance.
The story also demands that society must find an innovative strategy that will change the game of sex so that young girls’ destinies do not get derailed as a superficial exercise.
The following points are worth pondering upon if we are to somehow achieve the morally upright nation imagined in Vision 2016.
• Masa’s fragile light was blown out by the wind of an uncaring Teacher’s attitude.
• A criminal act was swept away by greedy parents who preferred to see an opportunity to get lobola and ignore the permanent damage to Masa both socially and emotionally.
(One could call it damage control).
• Poor and vulnerable Masa painfully graduated from playing with plastic dolls to a live doll that would alter her destiny forever.
If society is to achieve zero tolerance for defilement of innocent youths, education must be the key to stamping out the lax and cultural response to this heinous crime.