Ntlo ya Dikgosi went into recess with one critical if quite unusual question not having been answered.
Kgosi Mmualefhe Mmualefhe of Chobe District had wanted to find out from the Minister of Local Government if results of DNA paternity tests could be used as evidence to determine the rightful heir to bogosi (traditional leadership) as well as in settling inheritance disputes.
Bokamoso Private Hospital charges P3665 for paternity tests involving the man and child while Gaborone Private Hospital charges P5300 for tests that involves all three parties.
Until the case of Kgosi Mosadi Seboko, succession to bogosi was by male progeniture. Mmualefhe’s question hints at the possibility of a commoner’s son inheriting the traditional leadership role he would otherwise not qualify for. It often happens that some questions are not answered because not all the relevant information has been assembled. This happened to have been the case with this particular question and it has been deferred to the next sitting, which will be next year.
Paternity sleuthing is a quite popular pastime in Botswana and some of its ardent enthusiasts can run through a long list of prominent families weeding out what in the English culture are known as “illegitimate” children. Declassified intelligence records from the colonial era show that Kgosi Bathoen II of the Bangwaketse doubted whether he was father of one of his children, leading to tension between him and his wife as well as great consternation in the administration, which feared that if he ended up divorcing her, recently returned World War 2 veterans would do likewise to deal with their own marital disharmony.
If judgments from the customary court process influence government’s policy-making, there would have to reckon with a 2008 Customary Court of Appeal judgment handed down by Kgosi Kgosikwena Sebele, which might be at odds with what Mmualefhe is suggesting.
The matter in question was of a man who made a written confession in an adultery case that was thrown out because Sebele (who was then court president) said that the letter did not meet evidentiary standards of the customary court as regards adultery.
In a subsequent interview, Sebele explained that there was “holy and unholy concubinage”. The latter is one wholly meant to be recreational while the former is a whole new species of unusual. A husband who has erectile dysfunction would make an arrangement with another man to provide bedroom services he is medically unfit for and make himself as periodically scarce as convenient for the other man to fulfill his part-time duties. This doesn’t come as a shock to the married couple because apparently it is something that pre-marital counselling covers. All this is top secret that (pun unavoidable) would be kept under wraps between the contracting parties. This level of secrecy means that if a child is the result, its half-siblings would be in the dark about the arrangement their parents made with the third party. Sebele said that some pockets of Botswana society still observe this practice.
In the context of what Mmualefhe is suggesting, such a child born through such surrogacy would fail a paternity test and thus be ineligible for a bogosi position or family inheritance. In response to this, Sebele says that the net result would be to upend a cultural practice that has served Batswana well for centuries.