Regional magistrate Barnabas Nyamadzabo recently sent court audience into impromptu laughter, saying that he reluctantly accepted Bakgatla traditional clothing in court because he feared the animal skin attire could pollute the court environment.
The paramount chief of Bakgatla Kgafela Kgafela II, his brother Mmusi Kgafela, deputy chief Bana Sekai and their tribesmen are facing charges of assault but have since complained to the authorities about the court’s attitude towards their traditional attire, including merokoro, Bakgatla’s traditional sticks, which they carry while on customary and official duties.
While their female folk would be allowed into court wearing their traditional clothing, Bakgatla tribesmen, with animal skins draped over their shoulders and carrying merokoro, would be barred from entering the court.
“It is not that our courts shun our traditional culture and beliefs as the accused tend to believe but rather because we do not want a situation in which our traditions come into conflict with the constitutional rights of individuals as bestowed upon them by the country’s laws,” Nyamadzabo argued.
He added: “Our courts in general are without adequate air due to malfunctioning of air conditioners and, as such, Bakgatla traditional attire as requested by the applicants could not be readily accommodated because we feared for the court environment in the absence of air conditioners,” sparking laughter from the audience who had thronged the court to hear about the chief’s fate.
In the end, however, Nyamadzabo allowed them in wearing their customary attire.
Wearing their traditional dresses, locally referred to as jeremane, with marching headgear, the Bakgatla women folk accompanied by their male counterparts in animal skins, thronged the regional court to give solidarity to their embattled kgosi and his tribesmen, accused of flogging people.
While the animal skins were eventually permitted to enter the court, it was not the same with the Bakgatla traditional sticks, which the authorities argued posed a threat to the proceedings.
Just like a leather jacket made from animal skins permitted in court, so should be their traditional attire, Kgafela argued.
Just like a stick of honour carried by the security personnel, including the Botswana Defence Force and the police, so should the merokoro be allowed in court – an argument which never saw the light of the day.
Kgafela was, however, puzzled that an innocent object like merokoro could be disallowed in court while they (Bakgatla) continue to carry knives strung to their waists as a symbol of tradition without any intervention.