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Demise of kgotla structure

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The village elders converge under a mosu tree horse-shoed by a neatly packed wooden structure.

A case of marriage wrecking has been brought before their attention. A young man has been caught “hiding” with his fellow tribesman’s wife and with wisdom spanning decades, the village elders have been entrusted to advise the kgosi with cracking the case to mete out an appropriate sentence.

After hours of deliberations from both sides, the elders reach a consensus, the young lad is to compensate his rival with six head of cattle, and one of them is to be retained for the elders to “wipe off their sweat” after the tedious task. They work entirely on a voluntary basis as the advisors to the kgosi, assisting him in dispensing justice objectively and keeping the community in peace.

The cow is slaughtered and eaten at the kgotla where the case was tried. Such was the practice of the kgotla in the old days as painted by Kgosi Olebogeng Puleng. With over three decades at the helm of Motokwe village, the 78 year-old Kgosi Puleng has over the years helplessly seen the horse-shoed kgotla structure slowly fading into extinction.

The kgotla in Setswana it seems, exists on two various levels; physical structure and symbolic authoritative system. Documented records show that it is a traditional system of an institution that serves as a forum for policy formulations, decision making, including political and economic developmental activities and judiciary on litigations.

The consensus is that it also by extension means the wooden, horse-shoe shaped structure where the kgosi and his advisors congregate to attend to cases and other important village matters. Although the kgotla in the former definition still exists, a different observation has been made concerning the kgotla in the latter definition.

In recent years, villagers plus government have been constructing shelters (maobo) through the Ipelegeng programme in various dikgotla across the country and this has led to the neglect of the original kgotla to the extent that in some customary courts, the structure no longer exists.

Does this then mark the demise of the famous horse-shoed, wooden structure which has stood the test of times? “We are in the modern times where a lot has changed. So many activities that used to take place at the conventional kgotla are no longer practised and this has led to the structure being minimally utilised. Such activities include letsema, sehuba and others,” said Kgosi Puleng.

The elderly community leader said the kgotla gave men “the feeling of being real men as they gathered to discuss important manly issues, out of women folks’ earshot”. He also clarifies that women had their equivalent setting called lelwapa where they could also discuss issues relevant only to them. Kgosi Puleng says apart from the fact that most of the customs that took place at the kgotla are no longer practiced, the kgotla has been abandoned because of conservation issues.

“These days trees are getting extinct and we decided to switch to the modern shelter where stones and bricks have replaced wooden poles in most customary courts. We are however, content that these stone walls still command the same respect that was bestowed upon the conventional kgotla in the old days,” he says. However, according to Kgosi Puleng, the conventional kgotla is not totally lost as most wards in the country still keep and use the old structures for their daily activities.

“These still serve as a reminder of how and where we used to dispense justice and if there are foreign visitors who desire to see how the old kgotla used to look, we can gladly take them there,” he says. Kgosi Matausi Gaothuse of Tsetseng, a small village about 30 km from Kang also shares Kgosi Puleng’s sentiments that the conventional kgotla structure is facing extinction.“We need the conventional kgotla structure to keep up our culture.

The traditional structure may have its own disadvantages such as lack of shade during summers and rains, but we should at least try and keep it side by side with the modern shelters,” he reasons. According to Kgosi Gaothuse, one factor that has led to the negligence of the conventional structure is that the spirit of volunteerism no longer exists among Batswana.

“The wooden poles need to be maintained regularly as they are susceptible to mites. So we need men to regularly fix the structure with new poles, but no one is willing to volunteer to do this,” he says. He says government should consider using Ipelegeng labourers to maintain the kgotla rather than the usual practice where they continuously cut grass.

The 77 year-old Kgosi Gaothuse’s wish is that the conventional structure should at least be left as monuments in all the customary courts across the country to serve as a reminder, especially to the younger generation and foreign visitors of how and where justice used to be dispensed in the country.

He says the modern shelter is only common because it provides shelter during harsh conditions and is more durable compared to the traditional structure. Kgosi Puleng says it is not dikgosi's wish to see the traditional structure left to the doom of extinction and says in his observation, in about five years’ time the structure may no longer exist.

In the current times, whenever there is an event at the customary court the proceedings take place at the modern shelter, village miscreants are flogged in the secrecy of the office where few are allowed to watch, unlike in the old days where they were whipped in public to shame them out of their deeds.

Today, the poor old wooden structures, if it were to be personified, is standing and helplessly watching its glory days passing by.  It sits like an older woman who has lost her lover to a more modern and attractive young woman and because she has lost the allure, can only watch as the younger lady steals the limelight.

Just like the old woman, the conventional kgotla structure appears to be in its last days and is just waiting for eternal death! ENDS

Source : BOPA

Author : Olekantse Sennamose

Location : MOTOKWE

Event : Feature

Date : May 23 Thu,2013

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