In between the entire hullabaloo that surrounded the so-called “Braai Day” and its shameless upstaging of National Heritage Day, I’d like to humbly give my two cents’ worth…then maybe we can call it a truce? Perhaps if we could all step back for a minute, find our inner selves; regroup and finally take one helluva deep breath we can sort out this whole sordid and completely fruitless exercise, yeah?
Let’s just be grateful that some of you have come out of Heritage Day particularly unscathed by the braai meat you had. On the other hand, perhaps we should congratulate those who boycotted the darn charcoal and pieces of meat- South Africans are quickly tipping the obesity scale. It ain’t pretty, people!
A recent conversation about the age old cross-cousin marriage tradition of the Batswana got me thinking hard about another, more controversial tradition. One cannot help but breathe a sigh of relief that some of us are fortunate enough not to have lived in periods and places that were (are) strict in the observation of such cultural practices.
In Tabane, E. M.’s research report titled “Influences of Cultural Practices of the Batswana on the Transmission of HIV/AIDS in Botswana” he describes Seyantlo as a “common” practice where a widow is traditionally obliged to marry her brother-in-law and “therefore can only have sex with [him].” It is also stated that this can also occur with a widower. (2004: 189)
The rationale behind this is the same one that underpins many of our traditions. Any African will tell you how important maintaining lineage (tshika) is. This encompasses, primarily, considerations around the welfare of the children as well as the protection of the assets of the deceased. It is also about “keeping it in the family” as lobola doesn’t have to be paid twice for the same person. After doing some digging, I also discovered that in Seyantlo’s purest form, neither the widow nor her brother-in-law will be consulted on the matter. Instead, the families of the two will meet and have an agreement of their own and, in a show of respect for culture, the two people will oblige. My foot!
The first thing that comes to mind is what about love? Somehow the rationale that some people in arranged marriages provide about the possibility of learning to love someone in the course of the union somehow doesn’t make any logical sense to me. Secondly, how narcissistic is our culture sometimes? I say Seyantlo is a cruel joke. In some instances, the very thing that it seeks to promote –family bonds- is the very same thing that it disintegrates; could there be anything worse than being stuck in a loveless and awkward marriage?
The unintended consequences of this evident marriage of convenience include tension and obvious resentment. Extra-marital affairs are culturally sanctioned in any case, and in the event of this happening the (traditional) wife knows better than to ask questions.
I mean, if Thabo were seeing Ntombi and they had long-term plans that included marriage, would he be particularly chuffed that he has to warm his widowed sister-in-law’s bed and play happy family? How does that affect the very children this practice is intended to protect?
In this age, society views Seyantlo with equal scorn and appreciation. While some people say they would take comfort in their sibling stepping in to hold the fort, others view it as completely immoral-something they reckon would be entered into by someone who had already had their sights set on their sibling’s partner.
I do not know much, ke monnye mo dikganyeng, however I do know that it is a burden that I would never carry nor one I would expect my sister to either. I simply want to marry someone I love and that’s that.
With all its seemingly noble intentions, Seyantlo is nevertheless a narrow-minded practice. It ignores the basic tenet that mutual love and respect (neė compliance) are a crucial foundation of any relationship.
Children aren’t only raised on pap and vleis but on witnessing the love and respect being shared between their parents. It’s the only way they can learn self-respect and respect for others. Growing up within a house with someone with the same last name simply is no guarantee for the welfare of children.Shouldn’t we be thinking differently in an era where sexual, physical and emotional abuse emanates from familiar places as it does from strange ones?