Africa / Gender / Girls / Sexuality

Malawian Woman Changes Sexually Repressive Customs

This story is worth sharing. The story was first reported last year in a number of African and international news outlets. It is still hope-restoring.

It’s the story of Theresa Kachindamoto of Monkey Bay in Dedza District, Malawi. She is a custom-busting chief. She is a new hero of mine, and chiefs tend to make me nervous, although I have some kind of blood that could see me running the affairs of Bataung, if a 100-plus others in line would suddenly keel over and die.

The story of chief Kachindamoto reminded of a poster I saw earlier this year: Ukuthwala to be outlawed. I doubled back and took this picture.

Ukuthwala to be outlawed, Kopano Ratele, Jan 27 2016

Before those who know what ukuthwala is and hate it start to celebrate, let me tell those who don’t know what the practice is about. Afterwards I shall say why there is no cause to celebrate.

Ukuthwala, or in Sesotho hoshobedisa, is, or has become, marriage through kidnapping or abduction. I am informed that it was primarily meant to force the hands of the girl’s or woman’s parents. Consent was to be gotten from her before she was kidnapped. In that way, it’s really a version of eloping.

The custom has become bastardised. Old men are abducting girls young enough to be their granddaughters and forcing them into marrying them. But it does not matter if the men who abduct the girls or women are younger or boys; it’s still the same thing. You don’t have consent. It’s criminal. And it perverts the custom and pollutes tradition.

It is true that parents sometimes are part of this perversion, as the story details. But who ever said parents are gods or are experts in raising children? Is it not true that too often as parents we have absolutely no clue what we are doing, and the best of the child is the last thing on our minds?

Whatever the conditions that might have given rise to hoshobedisa or ukuthwala, it is now custom and tradition gone horribly wrong. It has no good reason to exist, except the patriarchal subordination of girls and women.

So why do I say there is no cause to celebrate? Those two words, ‘to be’, are the problem. The practice is, in other words, still not illegal in South Africa. The country, which prides itself with a grand constitution with an enviable bill of rights, has known of this perversion of custom and is still considering to outlaw it? The egalitarian state of South Africa, at least on paper, which this year turns 22 years, has known of girls and young women being abducted, sexually and bodily violated in what is supposed to be a customary marriages, denied their bodily rights, and prospects to thrive, and has gone on as if this is not abnormal? Why has it taken more than two decades to outlaw this barbaric practice?  Mpph.

In breaking up sexually repressive traditions like child marriages, chief Theresa Kachindamoto in Malawi shows how this is done. Fearlessly. First thing on the agenda when you get to be a chief. Or president. (Donald Trump says he will not Malawian men into the US if they are not married. He didn’t say that? Well, who says he will not say it when he sees this.)  And do not stop until every girl is in graduate school with a promise, not of a husband, but a rewarding job. Girls should not be wives. (No one should consent to being a wife. It’s a position of abjection, wifehood. But that’s a story for another day.)

Come to think on it, these are more than just sexually repressive practices. They are customs informed by antipathy, usually subtle but at times plain, against the independence of girls and women. They are ‘traditional’ customs well-liked by miserable traditionalists, those friends of the old patriarchal colonialists and evangelisers, who refuse African countries to flourish while claiming to love their cultures.

Please share the story of your Twitter timelines, Facebook pages, blogs, and other social media platforms. This woman is a hero of mine. Did I say that already? Well, make her yours too.


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