I called off my engagement to my boyfriend to restore my dignity and self-worth.
He didn’t love me, but rather liked the idea of having someone to assert power over. To him and his family, I was nothing more than a makoti.
A makoti is a woman whose family negotiates her entry into a patriarchal and oppressive system of marriage, where she is to serve her husband and his family, denying her identity and giving her body, mind and soul over to them to do as they please.
That was going to be my fate if I went ahead with marrying him.
When I met him 7 years ago, he was the perfect guy – loving, caring, respectful and romantic. That was the honeymoon phase where he put his best foot forward because as time went on, he began to reveal his true colours.
Romance was replaced by constant fights sparked by my refusal to always agree with him because he was the man. He disliked that I was a career woman with my own income, because according to him, a woman’s place is in a position to be provided for by a man. He would expect me to play house while he sat on his backside waiting to be served, and he would disregard my opinion on any decision, when he bothered to inform me of them.
I was verbally and emotionally abused by him, and I knew I had to leave the relationship. But I was afraid of being labeled as a “lefetwa”, a derogatory term used to describe a woman who isn’t “woman enough” to attract or keep a relationship, so I tolerated him.
Our families didn’t get along, and his mother disliked me. To her, I was a bad person because I was replacing her as the first woman in her son’s life. But more than that, she disliked me because I was a makoti and culture required that she treat me like a punching bag and a nuisance.
So, upon realizing what I was walking into, I removed my engagement ring from my finger and told my uncles to cease lobola proceedings, much to their disapproval about my cheekiness for telling men what to do.
As a makoti, I would be expected to live with my in-laws for a few months, waking up at the crack of dawn to prepare breakfast for the family. I would be expected to be permanently dressed in a skirt, a blanket to cover my shoulders and a headscarf for my head to show constant respect of the men and the ancestors of my new family.
I would have to clean up after everyone, cook throughout the day for them and work around the clock to serve them.
I would have to be docile, timid and be seen serving and not heard. I would have to kiss my dreams, aspirations, beliefs, career, and relationships goodbye because a makoti is not a person but rather a servant to its masters. I would have to leave my name and heritage behind to adopt theirs.
And dare I not produce a son as the first child within the first year of marriage, Lord cover me for I will experience the wrath of my husband and his family.
Culture, family, tradition – all of these have reduced my humanity as a black woman. I have played a part in reducing my humanity by tolerating abuse from my boyfriend and not believing that I was enough and worthy.
But no more! I am taking back my life.
And I say, to hell with being a makoti.
*image from The Other.