Botswana: father sleeps with his daughter-in-law as a marriage practice

In Botswana, the Kalanga community in Plumtree in Matabeleland South has dumped a controversial cultural practice, whereby young women were ordered to have sexual intercourse with their fathers-in-laws first before they slept with their husbands.

The community is now trying to stop that practice because it is a violation of women’s rights. “Long back when we were growing up, what used to happen is that before the new bride formally got married to her husband, she was supposed to have sex with her husband’s father to verify whether she was a virgin,” said Bhekizulu Tshuma (74), one of the villagers.

He said the new bride was not supposed to refuse as it was part of the Kalanga culture. The culture says “the father will pave the way for the son to let the son travel safely”. Another villager, Loghty Nleya (77), said besides testing for virginity, the practice was important in strengthening the relationship between the father and son.

“Because of this practice, it was common that in most instances, a woman’s first born did not belong to her husband but to her father-in-law instead, since he would have been the first one to sleep with her and break her virginity,” he said.

Village elder, Mbimba Mhlanga said although the practice was to be stopped, it was important to curb sex before marriage.  “We have since stopped the cultural practice and it is no longer there,” said Mhlanga. “We were advised by the government and many health non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that the practice posed a danger in transmitting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as HIV and Aids,” said Mhlanga.

Mhlanga said at one time in the community a whole family was wiped out due to HIV and Aids because of that practice. “There was a serious campaign by the NGOs after some families perished after contracting HIV,” he said.

He however added: “The problem is that nowadays our daughters are losing their virginity at a tender age because there is no one to monitor them.”

Mhlanga said the cultural system was also meant to prepare the son to take over his father’s younger wives in case he died.

“In our Kalanga culture, men used to marry a lot of wives and in case the father died, the son would take over his surviving wives,” he said.

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