By Diana Awino
Peter was a uniformed army officer with ranks. Peter died leaving behind a widow, two daughters and two sons in addition to his mother, father, two step-mothers and a score of siblings. Shortly after, Peter’s widow and last daughter followed him to the grave. In Africa it is common to die without leaving behind a will and Peter was no exception.
Twenty five years down the road, his father and brother from another wife secretly claim his death gratuity and benefits. Huge sums of money were at their disposal and their greed consumed the money like wild bush fire. One of Peter’s sons got a pinch of this money to pay the bride price for his wife; and out of guilt his half brother paid one semester’s tuition fees for Peter’s daughter in a third rated village technical school.
A family feud broke out. The cause? “Who has the right entitlement to Peter’s death gratuity and benefits?” One sect of the family seconded Peter’s father and half brother, another sect was pro-Peter’s orphaned children. Since Peter was my mother’s half brother; she was involved in the issue right from its genesis. She provided lodging for the duo, and out of pocket expenses for the whole process that dragged for over eight years but was eventually fruitful.
When Peter’s children dragged my grandfather and uncle to court over swindling their father’s death gratuity and benefits my mother’s reaction pierced through my heart like a thorn and tears rolled down my cheeks, I cried as discreetly at her betrayal. Could you imagine the shame of seeing the grandchildren in the plaintiff’s box and their grandfather in the defendant’s box? Greed, oh greed! My mother told my uncle to pass on this message to her niece and nephews,
“Peter’s children should not disturb their grandfather, because their grandfather gave birth to Peter and educated him. Unfortunately he died, therefore our grandfather deserves full custody of the death benefits. Peter’s half brother patiently pursued the whole process, if Peter’s children knew it was easy why did they not take on the process, why do they wait for the money to come out and cause trouble. If they also want to benefit, Peter’s children should bear their own children and send them to school, in a scenario that one of them passes on, they would enjoy the death gratuity. Peter’s children should leave their grandfather to enjoy his son’s gratuity peacefully.”
Last week I visited my maternal relations. My grandfather was sent to an early grave in 2011 due to bad blood with Peter’s children, these children’s troubled childhoods turned them into rogues and they were a thorn in the his flesh. By the time of his death his grandchildren had grabbed most of his farm land and he was reduced to a squatter on his own land. My uncle was blinded by Peter’s death gratuity and ignored his job; perhaps he thought that money would never run out. His negligence left him jobless until two months ago when he got a job, even though the death benefits had been exhausted more than six years back! My uncle can write a whole book on poverty! My mom lost her eldest daughter in 2012, fortunately or unfortunately, my sister died childless and jobless and there was nothing to scramble and partition for.
Peter’s children were denied basics like identity, family and education yet their extended family were in the position to avail them a decent upbringing and protection. If only these children were empowered from childhood, I do not think there would be any struggles for Peter’s death benefits. Peter’s children are a living testimony of “from glory to grass” and Africa’s inadequacy to protect and care for orphans. Orphans’ biggest threats are the living relations whose eyes burn with scorn and greed.