Is calling a kid ‘makoti’ creepy or a harmless part of our African culture?

Is calling a kid ‘makoti’ creepy or a harmless part of our African culture?
Is calling a kid 'makoti' creepy or a harmless part of our African culture? 1

I’ve called my best friend makoti since our varsity days. The term – which means wife/bride – is what the student residence’s cleaner used to call her back then.

Mmane (aunt), as we referred to her, used to fondly call my friend makoti because on the few occasions where we didn’t have classes, she’d walk past my friend washing the dishes at the sink or “spring cleaning” her room.

To mmane, calling my friend makoti meant that she was very fond of her – in fact, that she considered her to be “marriage material” and if she had a worthy son, he would be lucky to marry her.

My friend was never offended by this label, which to us was a term of endearment.

This analogy was brought to mind by a Twitter thread I saw earlier this week, which has turned into a very interesting debate. Vlogger Mpoomy Ledwaba had to “defend” her position after she tweeted that she found it quite “creepy” when adults used the term makoti or mkhwenyane (son-in-law) to compliment kids.

Mpoomy’s comments saw several people trying to explain to her that in the African culture, using these terms is one of the highest compliments that adults (usually old mamas) can give kids.

However, others supported her views and agreed that it is creepy to view children in this way – and somewhat oppressive.

Young parents deal almost every day with internal conflict when confronted with issues such as this – situations that require them to choose between “questioning” how their parents raised them (ie. following and respecting African traditions, as taught to them by their parents) or exercising their freedom of choice and applying the theories they’ve since acquired in more mentally “liberated” settings, such as university.

After hearing the argument presented by tweeps who felt there was nothing wrong or creepy about calling a kid makoti or mkhwenyane, Mpoomy still respectfully disagreed. She reasoned that she wasn’t raising a wife, hence her taking offence at people only seeing her daughter for the “great wife” she could be.

Mpoomy didn’t hide the fact that her opinion may be unpopular. In fact, she emphasised that it is her PERSONAL opinion that would reign in her life. Fair enough.

However, if you’ve called someone’s baby girl makoti, I’m almost certain you weren’t implying that this is all she will grow up to be. If you are like me, or mmane, it was merely a compliment.

It really shouldn’t even have the ugly, paedophilic connotation – our Africanness doesn’t deserve it. Our elders didn’t live in an era where there was a higher calling for women and we shouldn’t hold that against them.

Yes, now we know better. We know that a girl child can grow up to be a CEO and that she can indeed be Miss Universe.

We are working hard to take up space and to break the oppressive and often patriarchal bits of our culture, so that our children may live within an African culture that has been modified to see a woman as an equal.

So I’m writing this to say, perhaps in our “unbecoming to become” process, we shouldn’t just toss the elders’ ways aside without trying to understand the context in which they were created. Maybe we ought to try our best to salvage what we can, as we move into our mentally liberated state as Africans.

Mmane definitely doesn’t deserve to be bashed for calling me makoti, when you know she means no harm. Rather teach your child to know that being a makoti isn’t her only option.