WHAT WOMEN PUT UP WITH OVER CHRISTMAS
When we look at the distortion of this practice – which happens in some families now – it’s not just about the mamazala
I ask for money whenever I need it; it’s unlimited. So when he is making those business deals, he must always keep me in mind because I am part of his life SERIAL SIDE CHICK
They have vastly different experiences over the festive season – wives are elbow deep in dishes, while mistresses get a free pass in December. City Press speaks to different women about why they may or may not be looking forward to the sound of jingle bells this year
‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” the saying goes, but for those women who are bound by duty to spend the festive season with their in-laws, it can also be a time of dread.
The apprehension around being the designated cook, cleaner and tea maker, and being on the clock for the physically and emotionally taxing “makoti duties”, has increasingly aroused ire and public debate.
But, says Zama Mopai, a customary law lecturer and expert at the University of Venda, the African custom of “ukotiza” and being a makoti was not intended to equate to the exploitation of women by their in-laws, as is the practice in some families these days.
“Historically, the practice of ukotiza was meant to induct a makoti into her new family. She would obviously be coming from a different family and a different way of doing things. The misconception that now seems to be perpetuated is that the makoti would come to serve everyone. Historically, it was always about being there to assist the mother-in-law,” Mopai says.
That brief was only deviated from if one was in a polygamous marriage – the wives following the first wife would then help each other, while the first wife would be the one assisting the mother-in-law.
“When you look at the history of the custom, it was never about servicing the needs of the sisters or everyone else. And that period of ukotiza would be to induct her into the female duties around the household that everyone shared. The other purpose was to test her strengths and weaknesses as a new family member to assess where she would be placed in terms of the relevant domestic chores,” Mopai adds.
But, even then, there was a time period allocated to ukotiza, after which the visiting makoti would perform these duties as an act of courtesy – and not because she was the visiting maid.
“When we look at the distortion of this practice – which happens in some families now – it’s not just about the mamazala. Now everyone is giving the wife chores. And when the custom of lobola also started being distorted to making it about paying high prices, it was easier for families to justify why they wanted a wife to be given more chores, which in itself is problematic,” Mopai says.
Communications specialist Lupi Ngcayisa has spoken out about the misogyny embedded in the practice of ukotiza and being a makoti – from the garb that is worn by the women to the long and hard labour expected of them.
Acclaimed actress Bonnie Mbuli has also famously spoken out against the labour expected of Xhosa brides in a tweet that went viral four years ago. It said: “I love my Xhosa ppl but 12 years a slave ain’t got nothing on ya’ll [sic].”
More recently, a Facebook group called Wise Makoti was set up for women to commiserate and share tips on makoti life and the duties expected of them.
One woman told City Press about the snide remarks her in-laws made to her, thinking the statement “Sifuna ukuva isandla sakho [they want to feel her presence]” would spur her on to do more work.
However, the culture persists and Mopai has some advice for new brides and those returning to their in-laws over the festive season.
“The practice itself, I think, still has relevance because it was always about showing courtesy to your mother-in-law. It is a good custom in its original sense. You’re joining a new family and, done right, it is a way of showing that you associate with them and that you see yourself as one of them,” she says.
For new makotis, Mopai advises them to “do your homework about the environment you’re entering into. Ask your spouse what his family is like socially and culturally.
“Where possible, also enquire from his sisters about their family environment; hopefully they share with you the ins and outs so you know where to pitch in. Make an effort around those things that may be out of your comfort zone and plan ahead. The golden rule is to show respect.”
For returning wives, she advises: “Plan ahead. A clever makoti always has one thing that mesmerises the inlaws and sets the tone for the visit. The golden rule is to show respect, but do not overwork yourself or overdo it – you’re not superwoman.”
Dorothy Malatji* (25), who is from Polokwane, Limpopo, is in for a luxurious though lonely Christmas. The self-confessed serial side chick says she would “never date a single man because they are just not my type”.
Her boyfriend of nine months, she says, treats her like a “queen”, and she is well aware that he will never leave his wife for her.
Malatji, who lives in a luxury apartment in Sandton, told City Press this week that she had accepted the fact that she wouldn’t be spending Christmas Day with her “beast”, as she calls him. But he needs to pay for her Christmas present – a trip to Hong Kong – while he’s with his extended family in Limpopo over Christmas.
Added to the bill for her solo holiday is five-star hotel accommodation and at least R150 000 in spending money, mainly for shopping.
As to whether she loves her boyfriend, whom she describes as a tall, dark “hunk of note”, she pauses and says: “Well, I respect him and I appreciate him.
“Every woman wants a piece of him,” she adds.
“I ask for money whenever I need it; it’s unlimited. So when he is making those business deals, he must always keep me in mind because I am part of his life.”
Although her close friends know she’s dating a married man, she has not introduced him to them because she’s afraid they will lure him away from her.
Malatji says her relationships with single men simply did not work out.
“I am a control freak and I don’t want a man who is always there to suffocate me. Married men are always on the road making money; they give me space to breathe.”
Marriage is the furthest thing from her mind – she is always thinking about her next overseas trip, she says.
But another other woman, who is the girlfriend of a prominent polygamist, longs to become his third wife. This is 27-year-old Karabo Makgalemele’s second relationship with a married man.
“I love him and I am going to marry him, as long as the right channels are taken,” she says.
“But he still needs to talk to his wives and my family about it.”
Although she is happy to be named, Makgalemele declined to reveal her lover’s name to protect him and his two wives.
She met him three years ago at a restaurant in Sandton and, from that day, she says, “I knew that he was my soul mate”.
Makgalemele accepts that she will be alone over Christmas because she understands he needs to spend time with his family.
“I don’t really fuss about spending Christmas with him because he always makes time for me during the year.
“So even when he is away, I don’t feel it, because I know that, when he comes back, he is all mine,” she says.
“He gives me money any time I ask for it. He’s the one who always reminds me to book my car in for a service. He is my superman.”
Her friends and family, however, “judge” her for dating a polygamist, but she isn’t too bothered about what they think.
“They can’t give me what he is giving me, so I don’t care what they say behind my back,” Makgalemele says.
“Unfortunately, you don’t choose who you fall in love with. He is taking care of me and he is doing things that a single guy wouldn’t do for me. So why would I bother about other people?”
Meanwhile, self-confessed blesser Serge Cabonge has a few requests for the “other woman” in a married man’s life.
“Please give us a break – it’s time to bless our families at Christmas. Let’s meet again in January.”
The married father of one, who is dating more than one other woman, says they all understand that he spends quality time with his family on Christmas Day.
“It is non-negotiable. They know this and don’t mind because I book them a holiday of their choice, give them money for a shopping spree, as well as some pocket money, because I am not a selfish man.”