Navigating the Trials of UMakoti

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I’ve become a fan of Isibaya, the kind of fan that tries to watch it even when it goes through its narrative lulls. But, being a young woman on the paper chase (both academically and financially) doesn’t leave me with much time to watch it.

When I do, I am glad to find that there is some or other less-dramatic storyline that I can relate to – the most recent being Thandeka (Nomzamo Mbatha)’s treatment at the hands of her mother-in-law.

While the monster-in-law narrative is a historic favourite; it is ka’Majola’s tendency to blame her makoti’s family for her perceived shortcomings as a wife that has caught my attention and drawn my ire.

My thoughts on the matter are also one of the reasons why I am often very sympathetic to my brothers’ (and cousins’) girlfriends…

In some cases (as is unfortunately the case with my own family) it is assumed that the bride’s family must have fallen short of their ability to make a good wife out of her for, what I think, are the smallest transgressions.

If a bride doesn’t; bend to the will of her husband’s family and jump when they say so, read their minds and pre-empt their needs or behave how they wish she would (docile, obedient and super-humanly domesticated), the groom’s family then judges the bride’s family.

Their disapproval is expressed through statements such as “she wasn’t raised well,” “she’s not from a good family,” “she’s not right for him,” or “she’s rude.”

I recently watched this happen to my cousin’s fiancé (we’ll call her Lee) when my family gathered at my cousin’s (we’ll call him Sbu) new home for the dual purpose of celebrating my sister’s 30th birthday and getting to see the new house. Let me know if you can’t keep up with all the familial relations mentioned above…

I digress.

Seeing as Lee is Sbu’s wife-to-be and the mother of his daughter, I feel as though it is her house as much as it is his. So, when Sbu’s sister spilled a drink on the light grey wall-to-wall carpet in the lounge, it was only natural that Lee got upset and came to clean it up.

She didn’t insult Sbu’s sister for it, nor did she vocalise her feelings as she cleaned up the spill, but the family said they could ‘sense’ her anger in the way she fetched the bucket and mop and proceeded to clean the carpet.

One of the older uncles then decided that he does not like Lee based on that one incident while the rest concluded that she must not have been raised well because they claim she was rude and stand-offish the entire day.

They never directly expressed their feelings to her, nor do they ill-treat her whenever she is around but their feelings towards her are now jaded by their malformed opinion of her.

“That’s a bit harsh,” I thought to myself. And then I thought of myself.

I plan on getting married one day, so I wonder if I will be treated the same way as soon as I show a little emotion or I stand up for myself. I mean, what is wrong with not wanting a troupe of 6-year-olds to break my furniature or being upset that my carpet may have been ruined?

The fact that a new bride is often under a miscroscope – expected to be a stoic example of spousal perfection under the crushing weight of her husband’s family’s expectations – is enough to put a young woman off a public spectacle of a marriage.

But you can’t choose your family. You can choose your husband, but never your family. They’re an ever-present feature of married life.

Not to say that all families are inherently evil and all new brides are doomed to a miserable marriage but the problem is so pervasive that it still works as a relatable story line even after all these years.

I’d like to believe that it is more than patriarchy at work and as I work to develop an understanding of such family dynamics, I implore you to spare a thought for makoti’s in difficult families across the world. They often leave their families to join new ones where it isn’t always kisses, hugs and beautiful words.

P.S.: Although this issue was tackled from a heteronormative, cishet perspective (as this is my frame of reference), I am interested in hearing about the experiences of the LGBTQ community when it comes to joining a partner’s family as well as what is expected of you and how they treat you. Feel free to contact me via Twitter.

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