A bitter makoti

by Belinda Pakati

A large body of women simply abandoned the notion of sisterhood. Individual women who had once critiqued and challenged patriarchy re-aligned with sexist men. Radical women who felt betrayed by the negative competition between women often simply retreated. And at this point, feminist movement which was aimed at positively transforming the lives of all females, became more stratified. The vision of sisterhood that had been the rallying cry of the movement seemed to many women to no longer matter.

Feminism Is For Everybody, Passionate Politics. bell hooks (2000)

A woman supporting another woman should be natural, but very few women support other women, instead they exacerbate violence and shame towards other women.

It was on a Saturday morning when I entered the house of a friend’s mother. The mother did not even pretend to be happy about what was about to happen that day. Her face was unpleasant and unfriendly. I noticed from the ash tray that she had smoked more than ten draws to maintain composure.

My friend had arranged for his Uncle and Aunt to negotiate for him to pay lobola[1] for his girlfriend. They had one child and had been together for three and half years. But my friend’s mother had never accepted their relationship, even though there was a child. She did not seem to like the fact that her son had made his own choice for a partner.

It has become clear that the mother will never accept the girlfriend as her makoti[2].

The girlfriend and her parents had come over to the boyfriend’s house to announce that she was pregnant and to request that the boyfriend acknowledged the pregnancy. But before the boyfriend could say anything, his mother told the girlfriend’s family that she could not accept and acknowledge the matter they came to address. She said her son already had a partner and she would never accept anyone else.

An altercation ensued and the girlfriend got very angry, burst into tears, and accused her boyfriend’s mother of ill treatment, telling her that it was not up to her to acknowledge the relationship. She also mentioned that the alleged “other woman” was no longer a part of the son’s life and that he had told this woman he had found someone else.

Seeing how angry his girlfriend was, the boyfriend eventually intervened and told his girlfriend’s family that he was indeed responsible for her pregnancy.

I was perplexed by the time it took for my friend to respond to his mother. I found it annoying that he just sat there and said nothing while his mother rejected the partner he had chosen for himself and, in a way, the baby too. It took the woman’s tears and pain for him to speak up.

I also felt helpless because I was not allowed to say anything, even though I could see that the mother was being unfair. It takes two people to make a baby, and the focus was on the girlfriend, not the boyfriend who had impregnated someone unknown to his family.

My helplessness surfaced because I knew the truth, I knew how their relationship started and I could see how attached they were to one another.

And I had also seen the mother would never accept the younger woman as the daughter-in-law of the family.

I recalled how my friend’s mother and siblings (especially the female sibling to be precise) used to say that the new girlfriend had given my friend some sort of a manipulative potion. They even took my friend to an umfundisi[3]to pray for him to leave the new girlfriend. “She comes from a poor family and her mother is a drunkard, her mother needs money”, they said.

A year passed, the lobola was paid and my friend and his now wife were blessed with their second child. Then my friend lost his job and soon after his wife discovered that she was expecting another child. The mother-in-law was not pleased to hear there was a third child coming.

My friend’s mother again said bad things about the makoti, that she was irresponsible, filthy and lazy, that what she knew best was to make babies, that if she thought she would get anything from her son, she would get it over her dead body.

As a woman it pained me to hear what was said about my friend’s wife by another woman. I felt she should help and guide her as her own child, especially as she was married to her son. She should have given her an opportunity to grow into the family, to feel confident to speak for herself, to get along with everyone.

It was difficult to hear her being judged because of her poor family background, to watch her having to defend herself during the process of announcing the pregnancy, because culturally she was expected to keep quiet.

The way my friend acted felt like it was not right. Sometimes he would side with his wife but because he could not provide for both families, he would get stressed. Then he would be angry at his children and swear at his wife, telling her how uneducated she was, that she would not inherit the house. She would also be reminded her about her drunkard mother who failed to find a home for her. I saw how he repeated his mother’s abuse of his wife.

The situation now, five years and three children later, is that my friend’s mother still does not acknowledge the makoti. And the makoti has grown into the habit of being emotionally, verbally and physically abused. She does not seem to care anymore. She has lost respect for her husband and has no respect for her in-laws. She does not conform to cultural norms. If her mother-in-law says something that does not sit well with her, she will not hesitate to answer back, she will look directly into her eyes to make it clear to her that she means what she is saying. She is now a disrespectful and bitter makoti.

At some point the mother-in-law tried to mend ways but the makoti did not want anything to do with her. “Mestige a tshollogile a tshollogileokase a olle, Lentswegeletswile le tswile gale bowe go tshwane le seatla”, she said. What is said cannot be erased or reversed, when water has been spilled it cannot be fetched.

Reflecting on this story I have some questions.

Do parents turn their children (like the son in this story) into perpetrators, thinking they are protecting them from women who want to use them?

Do elders misuse culture to oppress others?

Do some woman perpetuate violence against other woman?

Instead of working together in solidarity do women sometimes create the conditions for gender-based violence to thrive?

Are we all part of the system that creates a bitter makoti?


Shalate Belinda Pakati is a senior project manager who coordinates student outreach and community engagement programmes within CSA&G. She is also responsible for the HIV testing and counselling work and ongoing student support. She has a background in Human Resource Management. She is passionate about working with and giving back to the community


[1]the practice of paying a bride price

[2] a term which can mean a bride, a newly-wed woman, a daughter-in-law, often used by a woman’s husband’s family to refer to her

[3] A priest

Mothering and Lockdown

by Dipontseng Kheo

(all mothers quoted here gave their consent)

As parents it is natural to want to protect our children from anything that could possibly harm our young ones. Pregnant mothers are feeling anxious about their unborn babies from this deadly virus.

I read an article about a woman who tested positive for COVID-19 in Belgium, just before giving birth to a healthy baby girl, and now must learn to care for her new-born infant with a mask on. She spoke about the pain of giving birth alone and not being able to see her other children.

When the lockdown was announced in South Africa, my children were still with my parents in Vereeniging, away from where I live. I also had started an online course which had about ten modules and back-to-back assessments. So, I decided to let them stay with my parents so that I could focus on my course and finish administration work I took home before the lockdown. Then COVID-19 statistics gradually went up and the lockdown was extended.

I started receiving homework for my children, one in Primary School and the other in High School. Then social media friends and family started posting activities with their young ones, and today’s slang FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) kicked in. Together with my partner, we decided we would have to fetch the kids. I went to the Police Station to get a permit, but under the regulations only divorced parents who were co-parenting were allowed a permit. The officer advised I write an affidavit stating my reasons. He also highlighted that if I met a roadblock, the law enforcement officials could send me back to Pretoria rather than allowing me to continue with my journey. Well to cut long story short, I managed to fetch the kids, no roadblocks.

For the first three days I was still excited that they were back and I started with trending activities like baking, cooking and exercising together. Some of these were activities we’d never really had time to do together before. In this first week I didn’t touch any school work. By week two I was exhausted, irritable and frustrated. I somehow felt I was not in control and had to try and create a routine. This was not exactly how I’d imagined things. From house chores to cooking, being a judge, doing homework, being a wife and working from home, I was drained. I recall telling our Deputy Director that I needed counselling because I was overwhelmed.

We are not used to being around our kids twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, except for some weekends. I came up with a routine to follow but we rarely followed it. I found new admiration for the patience of teachers; home schooling is really draining if you don’t have that love and patience for teaching. And it’s even worse when you don’t have a clue about what is being taught. I didn’t do EGD (Engineering Graphics and Design) and my Grade 8 daughter asked me to help her. I really didn’t have a clue and that really frustrated me. I thought of finding a tutor, but at the same time I was worried about their wellbeing. What if the very same tutor infects my children with this virus, a virus that’s really got us overthinking? So, we opted for online lessons; it was a bit of a challenge in the beginning, with one laptop, but eventually we found a way around it.

I started speaking to other women to see how they were coping during lockdown. That really helped and gave me the strength to come out of the negative shell I had created for myself.

This is what they had to say:

“As coronavirus was strengthening its grip on the world, we all watched with fear and anxiety. I saw the declaration of a total lockdown of the country in a positive light because at least I knew that staying at home, and not leaving to meet with other people, would actually delay or prevent myself and my children from contracting the virus.

Spending time with my kids proved to be an excellent experience as we spent the time doing small things which mattered the most to each one of us. New routines and habits were formed.

We exercised together, did cooking lessons, cleaned the house, worked in the garden and played together. Most of which are activities we never had enough time to perform before.

The only challenging experience was that of having to ‘homeschool’ the kids. First was the issue of not having enough data to log on to online classes, then we had to print out worksheets which was an impossible task as all shops were closed.

In a nutshell, for me this proved to be a great time for me and my kids to spend together and it allowed us to explore and express our individuality in many different ways.”

Khahliso Zulu, Pharmacist Manager

“As an essential worker I thought life would still be the same at home during lockdown, but only to find out it’s not going to be easy at all.

Being a mother, I had to leave my daughter with Daddy every weekday for work, but will most of the time be on the phone with them, regarding school work issues and making sure when she is home she still acts responsibly.

One beautiful thing about lockdown was that my 11-year-old daughter learned so much regarding house chores, because I would give her things to do after doing school work, then on weekends she will keep on doing all those helping Mommy. This was not an easy time for everybody but again we managed to bond a bit compared to when the world was normal.”

Dikeledi “DK” Letsiri, SABC radio & TV sports presenter

“I have always known myself to be a ‘jack of all kinds’ of mom but have come to realise that in these trying times even super heroes need time out. It has been very challenging to juggle between working from home and home schooling, while trying to keep it together and be prayerful that we keep the family safe from this pandemic. We have all had to adapt, and most importantly, we have to keep sane while trying to avoid stuffing our faces, even though I am trying out new recipes all the time! We might just end up rolling out of this lockdown…lol. I salute all moms out there! Keep being the best mom you possibly can be.”

Evodia Lenong, Policy Administrator

Based on these views of different mothers working from home, or as essential workers, we just have to figure out what works just to be sane during this pandemic.

I must say I am eventually getting the hang of things only weeks later. We still exercise, play games and meditate together. It’s up to an individual to view lockdown from a negative or positive perspective. What works for me might not work for you. Yes, these days are not the same but we still have to look ahead and create a better future for us and our children.

In conclusion, I will like to remind mothers that they should not be hard on themselves. This lockdown is new to everyone and all you’ve got to do is just try to do the best you can. If you are not coping, speak to someone you trust. Free counselling is provided for many many employees, reach out.