The late Nelson Mandela once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”. The world watched with a mixture of shock and intrigue as the Mandela clan played out their squabbles in public months before his death. We were at a loss when the nonagenarian passed on; and witnessed through the media as the drama and tense relations between family members persisted.
Our fixation with that family grew increasingly as Tata’s last will and testament was publicly read, opening it up to scrutiny; the discourse naturally spilling into the social media sphere.
Drafting one’s last will and testament is probably the most sensible exercise any of us can undertake in our lifetime. But it remains one of those things that people neglect. It really is funny how a piece of legal documentation can be interpreted as a measure of how the deceased loved each one of those left behind as opposed to one that could be instrumental in averting possible conflict over assets.
That, of course, is an ideal situation. In reality, wills can be manipulated and contested by those with vested interest in the deceased’s estate, which can result in long drawn out legal battles. The contents may also be changed by the testator to reflect their emotional state in terms of their relationship with any of the beneficiaries. Who can forget the infamous family dispute over oil magnate J. Howard Marshall II’s $ 1.6 billion estate by his wife Anna Nicole Smith and son, E. Pierce Marshall?
Judging by the responses on social networks on half of Mandela’s estate being left to his surviving partner, his wife Graça Machel and sensationalist reporting on Winnie “getting nothing”– many weren’t happy. To exacerbate the situation, Machel’s children (and step-children) benefitted from Tata’s estate. One has to ask; what is wrong with that? Surely when they say sa gago ke sa me- Sa me ke sa gago (What’s mine is yours) in reference to the institution of marriage, then it couldn’t have been done more pragmatically?
Writing on the Challenges of Step-families, Linda Schaefer states that, “the problems of a second [or third] marriage are more complicated, since more people, relationships, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs are involved.”
Look, let’s not sugar-coat anything- raising step-children is tricky. I recall a conversation with a good friend of mine who was raised by a single mother. He grew up having men who weren’t his father around him. One, in particular wanted to be “the man of the house” and what resulted was a tug-of-war in the home; an experience that has negatively affected how my friend relates to relationships and the prospects of raising someone else’s child.
For those presented with step-parenting, it can mean either having their attempts at affection thrown back in their faces or having to face entrenched expectations that the child will be mistreated anyway because of the absence of a biological bond. I find it rather peculiar that the same society that can decry constant threats to children’s livelihoods, including abuse of all kinds, is one that deems it okay –without reservation-for someone to exclude his spouse’s children (by default, his children) from his estate.
What does this reveal about the “soul” of our society? Sometimes, it seems we merely take three steps forward and five steps backwards. We decry all these injustices and far-reaching consequences of children not being brought up in a loving and sheltered environment. Yet it is clear that we are the very monster we detest; we are comfortable with that.
The perpetuation of the unspoken perception that step- or adopted children are second-class individuals who should be grateful that they even get an ounce of affection at all is tragic. “There are men [and women] making a valuable contribution to the lives of children in South Africa, even when they are not their biological children”, writes Izzy Rawlins.
As in his living years, one continues to draw lessons from Tata, even in mortality. Doing the juggling act of re-asserting one’s love for his biological children against assuring step-children of their place in the family can’t be an easy feat- for anyone. I reckon that a lot of us missed the lesson there-which is more of a question than a set of ready-made answers: How much of yourself are you willing to give to others without expecting anything in return?