Of love, death and a culture clash

2012-08-11 11:31

In 2008 I led a marriage negotiation delegation to Magaliesburg for my nephew.

Our opposites were led by the bride’s uncle in all the ensuing deliberations.

All the cultural aspects were observed, as prescribed to us by the bride’s family, including a concluding remark from the girl’s uncle to me directly saying, “My friend, I beg you to look after this child of ours.

Don’t forget that I am giving you the body but her mind remains mine.

Their cultural approach to the whole process was fundamentally very similar to ours.

Sadly on September 12 2010 my daughter-in-law died immediately after giving birth to a bouncy baby boy. The following day I drove to Magaliesburg.

The deceased’s mother (in the company of some aunties) was in a very emotional state.

We were told the burial date and the name of the funeral undertakers. Up to this time the men (from the deceased’s family) had still not arrived.

So when the women told me about the funeral arrangements I didn’t answer them.

Moments later, we all set out to fetch the newborn baby from the hospital.

At that point the uncle had also arrived and I decided to voice my family’s unhappiness about the fact that by not including us in the decision-making about funeral arrangements we, as co-bereaveds, had been reduced to mere sympathisers.

In addressing my concern he invited me to discuss it with the women, who emphasised how I should have given my input to them.

When I said that I could not, because my culture does not allow me to, one aunt took me on. She said I was demeaning her gender and, to my surprise, the uncle concurred.

I had just started to explain my cultural expectations when she had simply shut me up out of hand by playing the “gender card”.

The uncle even reminded me about his parting words at the negotiations, that her “mind remains mine”.

He had meant that in the event of his niece’s death we were not expected to have any say in the funeral arrangements. (We were, however, accommodated on this occasion).

I painstakingly tried to convince them that I was not discriminating against the women by emphasising why our culture did not allow me to engage with them.

I told them my view that most African cultures recognise that women are generally more emotional than men in trying times like death.

Therefore, decision-making is entrusted to men to protect women (and not to demean them).

In cases where it is the woman who is materially or otherwise more empowered, she is expected to at least “front” an elder male relative or spokesman to pronounce her decisions which then become the bereaved family’s.

The fact that we were of different cultures meant I had to be extra careful as to how I gave my input.

I did not know how the women (whom I had never before engaged with) would react or interpret it, given the highly charged emotional circumstances.

Also, given the unknown reactions my input on intercultural issues might trigger, it was only natural for me to be a bit uneasy about engaging somebody of the opposite gender, instead of another man.

»Bingo Madongoman wakwaMkondowe (Keith Kondowe) is principal consultant at Workplace-Acquired Skills Assessors in Soweto. He writes in his personal capacity

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