CRUELTY TO OUR WIDOWS

A FORTNIGHT or so ago Johannesburg taxi boss Joe Mophuting told Sowetan that he had assured his relatives that if he dies, they should blame his death on the taxi industry and not on his wife.

A FORTNIGHT or so ago Johannesburg taxi boss Joe Mophuting told Sowetan that he had assured his relatives that if he dies, they should blame his death on the taxi industry and not on his wife.

By so saying, Mophuting made two important comments about our society. Both of them are accepted as self-evident, yet only one tends to evoke the type of outrage it deserves.

Without using as many words, Mophuting said his industry was full of warmongers too ready to kill anyone who happened to hold a different view.

In saying that his relatives should not blame his death on his wife he made yet another important observation: in the eyes of their relatives, black South African men can never die of natural causes or in accidents. They are always killed by their wives.

This lie has come to be accepted as a self-evident truth. That is why the likes of Mophuting - and I guess every man who loves his wife - must announce this disclaimer.

If they don't the poor woman is set for double grief; that of losing a loved one and another of having to answer to the dead man's relatives.

Coupled with this behaviour is the inclination to loot the assets of the family in the name of reclaiming "their son or brother's things" without bothering to establish the wife's contribution to the family wealth.

We know already that the widow of the late Bona editor Force Khashane has had to seek the intervention of the law after her in-laws sought to evict her from the house she had shared with her husband.

Last year the Sowetan ran the story of a Kagiso, West Rand, woman whose taxi-owning husband was shot dead. She woke up to find the words, "killer bitch" painted on the walls of her house. Her in-laws admitted that they had never liked her much but denied they had anything to do with the cruel words.

These are two of the thousands of examples we are all too familiar with.

As matters stand, I am sure that many women wish that should their husbands die an unnatural death, it should be as a result of something like the 9/11 terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York or an earthquake in which hundreds or thousands of other people also perish.

Anything short of that, the relatives will find "evidence" that will invariably be corroborated by some charlatan witchdoctor (I mean witchdoctor, not inyanga or sangoma) who will also point out that there was already a lover in the wings.

It will be naïve to assume that there are never times when spouses arrange their partners' deaths.

Our newspapers are full of such stories.

But while men who lose their spouses find sympathy, sometimes to the extent of the deceased wife's family arranging that another woman relative take her place, we are a nation that is cruel to its widows.

We are a people who will shout all kinds of abuse against men who rape and beat up women but somehow think that the emotional barbarism we visit on widows is normal.

I have seen many campaigns against women abuse. But we have ignored this shame.

We may not have totally eradicated this scourge, but we have made great strides towards creating the consciousness that frowns on the abuse of women.

We should build on this foundation instead of becoming complacent and indifferent. Anything else makes a mockery of our so-called commitment to gender justice.

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