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The illegitimates; don’t let the law box you out

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 17 October 2018   |   By Tumie Forthright

I am my mother's only illegitimate child, last born of four, ten years younger than the youngest of her legitimate ones. Needless to say I am the only one with a different name in this household. The only one related to my grandmother, I always say. Do I feel like an outcast? No! There is never anywhere we have gone where we needed to show our names; even at travel no eyebrows have been raised. I was a young traveller before the human trafficking innuendos made life difficult for parents to be travelling with their young. I am imagining my mother having to have my birth certificate, hers, her marriage one, my father's, my grandma's, or not, and consent letters to travel with this child she birthed but has no claim to either by name or much else. What a pain! My mother has strong genes. All of us, boys and girls are a spitting image of her. Born of two men, totally different, one the smooth talking rich and handsome devil incarnate as my eldest sister calls him and the other, the one who sired me, the big nosed big haired big hearted rugged man, my dad and a pal to my older siblings. I'm telling you the producers of 'Modern Family' would be green. Apart from that I feel like my siblings are like my other parents. I have never ever felt like I'm not their 'blood', not any one day. They have been the bestest oldest siblings known to child, and so loving. You see I'm also very loveable and I'm way younger so I suppose it was easy for them. But they live love too. The law by itself will decide I'm not legitimate but to my Dad, momma and my siblings I am as legitimate as they are.

On that legitimacy, when their father died, I was little and I don't remember him much. He only ever came by to cause a scene in his drunken stupors. So when he died his sisters decided that of all of his riches, and he was, my siblings didn't deserve anything. They went and divided his riches amongst themselves and their children, and none of his legitimate children, my siblings, got anything, save the houses only my mother knew about. And my father, who has me and two other children, has all of us covered to eternity. I didn't need his name to feel like his or to even receive of his care and support. I could choose to be a bum and I would never lack. Yup! Does he want to give my grandmother cows so I can use his name? No! Does it bother him? No! Three of his children (you should see him talk about these children that he didn't even father) use another man's name. That has not stopped him from being their father, present in their lives, at all of their school activities, their life activities and including walking my sister to her husband in waiting a few years back, with unmatched pride! Does it bother him that his partner, one with whom they have made a good life and businesses carries a different name? Not in the least. Him and mom say as a people we give the law too much power over our lives unnecessarily. Do you know how many times they have been asked "what if one of you dies?" and each has answered "then they die" when in fact that's not what the people are really asking. But my father says people worry too much about things they shouldn't and should remove their noses from their lives. I saw a meme I want to print for him and put on his desk. It's a pic of two cartoons and one is holding a nose and saying to the other noseless one "here, found this in my business"! Apt! And my mother? "Child I've been through enough laws and offices with my first husband to last me a lifetime" she says in exasperation. What does she even mean? She only has had one husband. But I suppose it's not in what the world decides he is to her, but what she decides and lives. I respect both their choices and have come to respect them immensely, not as my parents but as these people who have not had life dictate a way of living to them… I am Legakwa Rebatho, legitimate she citizen of the world.  I took my maiden breath as my mother took her dying one. I watch pregnancy shows and see babies latch so naturally at breasts and feel a pang of jealousy and some days when I'm feeling silly I imagine my mother and I gasp at the same time and one for death and the other for life and then I'm hilarious all by myself. But then I've always been this child, or maybe that is why. Before I was out of diapers my father had found comfort on my mother's friend's arms, with a toddler herself, a rowdy boy who would fight everything in life including life itself to a colourful finish of his life at the mercy of drugs just before we finished university. Some days I wish I had something from the life of my brother to study it and see how someone so sweet could also be that bitter and self-endangering. You see like how they cut bits of your body parts with cancer to see what's causing it? Yeah that!  I miss him. Him and I were illegitimate. I use my mother's name but have always lived with my dad and grandma, my father's mother. Tshetso also used his mother's (our mother) maiden name. Our two legitimate siblings use my father's name. In fact, I didn't know our mother didn't birth to me until a woman who thought it her social responsibility told me when I was at my maternal grandmother's house for Christmas one day when I was sixteen. When everyone wanted for her jugular she blamed the bottle. She was the village gossip and drunk, terrible combination and no one wanted her near their children nor spouse, but she happened to me. I was sitting for my high school exams the following year and everyone was out of their minds about how this will affect me! Me? "Oh? I didn't realise! So where is my mother?" and my grandmother went into hysterics and called my father who came the following day, a week before I was due back to be collected and there was a meeting. I was not moved, really really I was not. Okay so I wasn't really their child together as was half sibling and step sibling, and had a step mother who I thought birthed me, and that other family only I would visit some Christmases, but yeah life is colourful. I survived the year and passed my exams. Tshetso and I both did, because in between his bouts he had repeated at some classes and we were in same high school class despite that he was two years my senior, but he still was a bright chap and we aced those things. When we all found out this little secret that must've been killing our parents he laughed when he sneaked into the house one day half stoned and said "I always knew it, I knew it. You're too quiet to be Mom's and a bit too smart for all of us" and we laughed silly! All of my 16 years with Tshetso and Seno and Lebu, our parents had never treated us any different. We had equal access to all the resources at home, and come to think of it I think Seno and Lebu, our two younger sisters knew the wrath of my mother's wooden spoon more than us the boys did.


I have wondered before some days, when birth certificates and other things were at show, why our surnames were so many, but sometimes, a lot often in fact, I'm lazy at this life thing of asking but I suppose it's saved me from a lot of unsavoury truths. But why hadn't Tshetso asked? I suppose he was just busy angry and living or didn't really care. Does it matter? Not in the least. My mother, who at the time was worried what I would be or do towards her when I found out has made sure my life is covered, all of it, and for each one of us. Having a name different from hers and my other siblings has not had her love me any less than she did the others. Some days in fact when I think about it, I think she tried even to protect me from life. When the other day I was curious about our family set-up and my girlfriend quipped I was illegitimate and we looked it up, we were astounded by what the law assumes of all of us born out of wedlock. There is nowhere I would fit my father or myself in the word bastard. Love child? Maybe. Because I was born of love, but not in the way they make it to be, with scorn. I will tell you, my parents have in all of the lawlessness of my being provided for me and my future. Do I feel illegitimate? What does that even mean? I'm dying to be able to ask Tshetso this! He'd say "entlik, grand grand which one of us smokes the weed Eno?" Ke nna Eno Garechaba, as legitimate as these words are to paper. To all you illegitimate ones; don't let the law box you. You are of love, live love!

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