I am a Motswana. By the way I am no choc-ice. I don’t belong with the Benny comes to town variety. The kind that is brown on the outside and white beneath. My moral constitution wasn’t shaped by clichés from American sitcoms or specially selected expletives from American townships I never visited.
I have the same affinity for my roots, and for my country, as does Tanya Tucker. It is for a reason that I like the song “Texas, When I Die”. When I die, I want to go to heaven. But if as my detractors have suggested they don’t admit lawyers there, then I am happy to go to back to Mahalapye. That village “is as close as I have been”.
I am not being cynical. I am just being truthful. To be sure, I was born in Francistown. I have every right to claim to have been born in a Spaghetti town and what more; to swear like a parrot. But I was raised in the village, in a traditional African home. I am the product of a strict Tswana culture. I treasure it. I hold dear my peoples traditions. They are my identity. Culture is a beautiful thing. And I do not by any means claim to be a model of perfection.
I drill cultural values into my children. I insist on the need to have a moral constitution. That their culture is a key reference point from which to draw life principles.
That every human being is worthy of respect.
That they are precious in God’s eyes and in my eyes. That they are not better than any other child by reason of external considerations. And never, to make any one feel unworthy or to let any mortal make them feel unworthy.
I tell them that there is nothing wrong with being black just as there is nothing wrong with being white. That there is nothing bad about being male, as there is nothing bad about being female. That they must be proud of who they are. I tell them that education will help them understand many things. But that it is culture that gives them a moral compass. Through the lamp of human experience, I have come to agree with our first president’s famous words; that a people without a past, are a people without a soul.
But lo and behold, I have seen both the good and the bad. I have seen culture being used as an excuse for oppression. I have seen it being used to discriminate against the girl child. I have seen it being used to rob her of selfhood and to make her unworthy of advantages generously bestowed to her male counterparts.
I have seen girl children married off in their early teens on sick cultural excuses. I have read of
At the same time, I have seen culture defend people, restore their dignity and give them a sense of self-worth.
I have seen it bring people together in times of happiness and in times of sadness. I have seen it uplift the downtrodden. I have come to know, more than anything, that my culture is a treasure so long as it is in the right hands and that I have a role to play in its evolution and purification.
That it doesn’t exist in perfect form. That I have a responsibility to reject everything wrong with it and to embrace all things right with it. Culture cannot be more important than the people it is supposed to serve. When sick adverts are justified by reference to it. When discrimination, dispossession and disinheritance are justified by reference to it.
When underage girls are removed from schools because they have roles to take up as wives. When we deny a girl child equality on the basis of culture, then I have a problem. When female genital mutilation is committed and culture is raised as our defence, I have a problem.
And when we make sexually suggestive ads about children and seek to hide behind culture, I have a problem. I have a problem with it at two levels. It is wrong, firstly. And I am a father and uncle to girls. I am a guardian of their welfare. Enough with sick cultural excuses.
It is important to clean up our culture. And it is important to clean up our minds. Sexism, paedophilia and child abuse have no place in it. We have a duty to audit culture for defects, not to justify same.
Then we can all embrace and celebrate it as a tool for national building; not as a justification for the fictitious proverbial “happy relationship” between the rider and his horse. We can finally have a nation where a girl child’s potential is not dependent on her gender but on the size of her heart. Just look how long it took us to admit female soldiers.
Look how long it took us to agree that women married to foreigners can pass on their citizenship to their children. As I write, I am struggling with a miseducated paramount chief who says that a woman cannot lead a village ward.
And we fake surprise when some companies call infants to undress so that they may enjoy some succulence.
A re chencheng, betsho.