By Patience Sibanda (Intern at Zimbabwe Democracy Institute)
The ill-treatment of widows was more like a norm in traditional Zimbabwean societies as people knew little on human rights; this has however, continued to trend even in our modern Zimbabwe. Human rights are being preached every now and then but to a widow’s world, nothing has materialized.
Following the recent patriarchal declaration by the late opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s mother trying to deprive Elizabeth Tsvangirai (widow) of what is rightfully hers; it becomes evident that most widows are affected by this with no voice at their rescue.
The most horrible part is that in most cases, the perpetrators are women. Women have become abusers to fellow women. It is not surprising that in most cases, due to other women’s vulnerability to political abuse and naivety they become catalysts in other people’s evil agendas.
There were even attempts to deny Elizabeth from attending his deceased husband’s funeral based on loose allegations of Elizabeth conniving with Nelson Chamisa against the late. Close relatives of Tsvangirai accused the widow of conspiring with Chamisa to succeed Tsvangirai.
Culturally if the deceased is married, the widow must mourn her husband in peace and stand together with the deceased‘s family. In the case of escorting the deceased body the widow is usually part of the escort team, however, Elizabeth did not manage to accompany her husband’s body to Buhera due to reasons only known to her and the family. She choose to go by road instead of using either one of the two planes available, one boarded by Mbuya Tsvangirai ( who pledged to commit suicide if Elizabeth attended Tsvangirai’s funeral) and the other by Edwin (Tsvangirai’s son- who left out Elizabeth during introductions at the farewell rally).
Instead of comforting the widow at a time of mourning, some of the in-laws are busy pushing her away from the family.
‘The Tsvangirai family has severed ties with the former prime minister’s widow as it girds its loins, ready to strip her of property and evict her from the majestic Highlands mansion’, reported The Daily News on Monday. We begin to question the Deceased Estates Succession Act in dealing with the deceased’s property.
According to the Deceased Estates Succession Act Chapter 6:2 the spouse of the deceased is eligible to inherit the deceased property whether they are married under community of property or out of community of property.
The Act also states that the surviving spouse is entitled to be given ‘the house or other domestic premises in which the spouses or the surviving spouse, as the case may be, lived immediately before the person’s death; and…’. Therefore, also guided by the bible (Exodus 22:22- “You must not exploit a widow or an orphan”) it is clear that ethically widows should acquire what is rightfully theirs.
Regardless of the law, widows continue to be tormented by their in-laws. Elizabeth is one of the many widows in Zimbabwe who do not sleep a wink soon after the death of their husbands due to harassment by in-laws demanding their deceased son’s property.
According to Human rights watch (HRW) survey based on 59 interviews across all provinces in Zimbabwe, widows experience violations of their human rights – they face ‘false’ allegations so as to prevent them from inheriting their late husbands’ properties.
The HRW report also talks of a 50 year old Glynniss who happened to have had been married to her husband for 20 years. After the death of her husband she was thrown out of her matrimonial home with nothing but only a burden of children to look after.
Pretty Sithole from Hwange is also a victim of harassment by in-laws after the death of her husband. ‘They (the in-laws) said I killed my husband and I am a cheat’ hence she did not deserve any of their ‘son’s’ inheritance.
Otilia Katsande from Harare said she was also chased out of her matrimonial home with nothing soon after her husband died.
The Zimbabwe Constitution of 2013 alongside with state parties in article 3 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) advocate for equal rights for women in terms of inheritance and property. Section 26 of the constitution states that in the event of marriage dissolution whether by death or divorce ‘provision is made for the necessary protection of any children and spouses. The constitution in section 80 goes on to say ‘All laws, customs, traditions and cultural practices that infringe the rights of women conferred by this Constitution are void to the extent of the infringement’.
The constitutional guarantees proves that Elizabeth Tsvangirai together with other widows who have been deprived of what is rightfully theirs have their rights infringed hence they must speak out.
‘The ill treatment of widows is shameful. It cuts across tribe, and class. Rich & poor relatives alike will pounce on a grieving widow with the force of a starved lion. Most relatives are not concerned with the welfare of the deceased’s family’, said Chipo Dendere on tweeter. @drdendere
‘In Zimbabwe greedy in laws come in all shapes and sizes. The very rich can also jump in to grab property. My conclusion is that the culture encourages and rewards greed. Someone with 5 houses will still attempt to steal from a widow who has just one home’ added Chipo Dendere. @drdendere
Linda Masarira, a human rights activist said, ‘Let’s arise women and deal with this negative social ill affecting widows and orphans. Social justice for widows is our social responsibility’. @lilomatic
This leaves us with the notion that we preach gender equality too much that we forget to speak out on women being oppressors of their own. Most widows are being harassed by their mothers and sisters in law, nonetheless not ignoring the influence of men in this case.
In conclusion harassment of widows is experienced by people from various tribes, backgrounds and religions; it is not only printed on one group of people.