Gender Gender

Inspirations from Archbishop Welby’s paternity saga – reactions

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
LAST week I wrote about the discovery by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby that the man he thought was his biological father was in fact not. Bishop Welby, aged 60, was born to Jane Williams, a former personal assistant to Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Anthony Montague Browne, Churchill’s last private secretary. Until a month ago when the truth was unravelled, the Anglican diocesan grew up knowing Gavin Welby, who died in 1977, as his real father. He came to know the truth after a DNA test revealed that he was Sir Browne’s son by a 99.9779 percent probability. The archbishop’s real father died in 2013, while his stepfather, whom he called father for 21 years, died in 1977. To sum it all, the archbishop’s 86-year-old mother confirmed that she went to bed with Sir Browne in days leading to her marriage to Mr Welby, but did not know that the precautions she had taken did not work and that she had conceived.
In my write-up I urged ‘us’ to learn something from Bishop Welby’s reaction to the shocking revelation. The archbishop says the DNA results change nothing about who he is because his real identity is in Jesus Christ. I also said it is bad for parents to withhold the truth concerning the real parentage of children born out of wedlock or extramarital affairs. In other words, I was saying children deserve to know who their real fathers/mothers are, despite the embarrassing past. And in referring to Bishop Welby’s reaction, I urged people who may find themselves in similar predicaments not to harbour grudges against their parents about the past they can’t change, but rather to have a positive attitude about the future, which they are capable of changing.
A reader, William Mwenda, phoned me to share the following views on the subject matter:
‘I would like to disagree with the handling of such matters because there are two cultures here (African and Western), which are different. In our culture, you would create a lot of disharmony if such issues are handled the way the archbishop’s paternity case was handled. First of all, I wonder why the archbishop’s stepmother (Sir Browne’s widow) provided evidence and combs for a DNA test without the archbishop’s consent. I don’t know what her motive was.
Archbishop Welby’s public response to this matter is very different to the way such matters would be handled in our culture. In our culture, matters of children’s disputed paternity are handled behind the scenes. Such matters could shatter families if they were discussed openly. And I am sure Bishop Welby’s public reaction is different to the way he reacted in the real sense. Actually, he knew the DNA results a month earlier, but said nothing. I am sure if the results were not going to be publicised, he would have said nothing about it.
The other thing is that there would be confusion in homes if fathers decided to do DNA tests to ascertain if children in their homes were really theirs. In African culture, the DNA technology was initially used by police to investigate crime and not for paternity tests. In our culture, we keep secrets about children’s paternity and this is what has kept families together for centuries. Imagine what confusion would be there if one discovered that their grandfather or great-grandfather (etc) were not their real kin. From the African perspective, ninshi family yaputuka (the family would disintegrate).
Issues of stepchildren being raised by ‘supposed fathers’ are common in Africa. Some people continue to hold their step-parents in high esteem even after discovering who their real parents are. I don’t think that a child (whose real parentage has been withheld) can dump their step-parent upon discovering the truth.
In Africa, we say it’s a woman who knows her child’s real father. But in Western culture, when a woman tells you she is pregnant, that’s it. With us, if a woman doesn’t tell her husband in the first month of pregnancy, he won’t accept responsibility, because we are totally different.
What I’m saying is that issues of children’s paternity are delicate matters, and for the sake of preserving our culture, they should be sorted out within the confines of the family.
And sometimes, people in the family would know a man’s assumed children are not his, but they won’t tell him. For instance, in the village, if a young man gets married, and after six months, the relatives see that the wife is showing no signs of vomiting (pregnancy), they will come up with a plan. The man may be sent on an errand, and the younger brother will secretly‘take over’ his wife. When he returns, he won’t know what happened and would assume the pregnancy is his.
In our culture, families are doing these things the African way. This is the reason why the courts do not order DNA tests all the time. There would be confusion in homes if the courts always ordered DNA tests in paternity rows. The reason is that a married woman would not voluntarily confess to committing adultery, if she is not caught. Do you think a woman can confess her sins to her husband when she discovers she’s pregnant. Of course not!
That’s why I don’t support the way the archbishop’s case was handled. As Africans, we need to handle such issues in an African way to preserve family unity.’
To the April 7th article titled ‘Domestic violence escalates GBV scourge’, a reader reacted as follows:
Madam Emelda,
Thanks very much if my e-mail finds you in good health. Madam, I have something that has been eating me so much such that it has affected my marriage. I am one of the followers of your Gender Focus in the Zambia Daily Mail and my question is – are you saying that we are not supposed to beat our wives or slap them if they mess up? I am asking this question because I slapped my wife and she took me to police where I was beaten brutally and my body got swollen. After the beating, I even started passing blood in my urine. From that day, which was in May last year, I have lost love for my wife and I don’t talk to her or associate with her.
When I am home, I just sit quietly as if it’s not my house. The truth is that I have lost interest in my marriage and sex. I may be wrong, but this thing of police interfering in marital issues has resulted into many marriages breaking down. I wonder how our parents were resolving these issues. Please help.
Simon, Ndola.
Dear Simon,
Let me say thank you for reading Gender Focus and for your contribution.
Let me categorically say that it is wrong and a husband has got no right to lay hands on his wife, much as a woman doesn’t have such rights over her spouse. A wife is a fellow adult who you need to reason with when you have problems. Beating her is not only violating her body, but is tantamount to treating her like a child who can’t think and needs to be straightened up with a rod. When you face irreconcilable differences, it’s better to engage a counsellor than resort to fighting.
Mind you, it is unlawful to beat one’s spouse, the reason why your wife reported you to the police for assault. However, I am disappointed that instead of allowing the due process of the law to take its course, the police officers resorted to torturing you. What the officers did was against the law and you should have filed a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
I wish that you would soon reconcile with your wife, and live in peace ever after. You need to forgive your wife, considering that you actually wronged her by assaulting her. I suggest that you engage a marriage counsellor who will help the two of you without showing partiality. Phone 0211-221364/227793

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