For a proper Tswana wedding feast, Tsholo’s father Sioto needed a young cow and an ox, in addition to the sheep. He owned cows, but they were all pregnant, so he did not want to use them for the wedding. He was going to Lichtenburg to buy them. Santu’s father Mike accompanied him. Knowing that I was going to be bargaining for the bride price in cows, I asked to come along.
In Lichtenburg, Sioto went first to a bank and then, to my surprise, to a store that said “Computers” on the front and looked to be computer repair shop. Apparently, the proprietor also dealt in cattle. Sioto had called in the morning, but evidently not spoken with the right person. The owner had sold all of his cattle of the appropriate age over Christmas, and had none left.
Sioto was now in a bit of a fix. It was Wednesday before the wedding, he did not have his cow and ox, and he apparently he was not sure where he was going to get them. That evening, my wife Footie and I told our hostess Dinanas, a business woman, about the problem, and she came up with a solution. She spoke to Sioto the next morning by phone, referring him to a slaughterhouse near Mafikeng. She knew these people and she was confident that they could help.
On Thursday morning, Sioto drove out to the slaughterhouse, with Mike and I tagging along. The Afrikaner family that owned it lived in a nicely kept home behind the rather industrial building where the animals were killed and butchered. It was not a retail business. Nobody was expecting him, and there was no one around to greet customers. After a while, we got to speak to the wife. No, they did not have any cattle to show us, but they would be going to the auction in Mafikeng that day, and would be able to purchase what he wanted for the price he was willing to pay. Talking to Mike and me, she said “I know their traditions. I speak their language. I know what he is looking for.” Given Dinanas’s recommendation, I would have been satisfied with the arrangement. However, Sioto wanted to see what he was buying and he did not have time to go to the auction.
After a few phone calls, they sent Sioto to a nearby farm where there was a cow ready to go to the auction, though the farmer was asking more than Sioto wanted to pay. When we got to the farm, Sioto did not really like the look of the cow: it was too mature. Fortunately, the farmer also had cattle in a pen, ones that he was not taking to market but would be willing to part with. Sioto picked out a cow and an ox that suited him (pictured above). They haggled briefly over the price, settling on around R6000 (less that $600) for each.
Sioto did not have the money with him. They would coordinate everything through the slaughterhouse. The farmer would deliver the animals there. Sioto would bring the money, along with the extra R1000 to pay for butchering the two animals. Sioto would have to go to the bank in Lichtenburg, and bring the money by later that day.
In the states, I would normally pay for a large transaction like this with a check. I was surprised not that Sioto used cash but that he did not have it with him. After all, he had been to the bank the day before. Talking later with Footie, we realized this was part of a pattern that we had seen played out in several ways. For example, the Molales never seemed to buy a full tank of gas; they would only get enough to cover the trip, and in one case only part of the trip, that they were planning to take that day. For this large transaction, Sioto did not want to get cash out of the bank until he knew precisely how much he would need. Another trip to the bank, thought it would cost about an hour, was preferable to carrying around thousands of Rands and having it with him overnight. Although they do business in cash, they habitually act in a way that avoids being seen with a lot cash on hand.
The computer store, the farm, and the slaughterhouse were all owned by whites. In dealing with the them, Sioto gave his name as “Johannes”. Even though his Tswana name is relatively easy to pronounce, he thought that he got treated with more respect when he gave them a name they could easily remember. Business is done with English names. This even extended to the magadi where, in the document they wrote out, the bride is identified as Gladness rather than Tsholofelo.
Sioto was happy as we left the farm. He had seen his cow and ox, both young and healthy. He was pleased with the cleanliness of the farm and the slaughterhouse. The butchered carcasses were delivered on Friday evening, rather later than expected but in time to be cooked for the feast on Saturday.