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Despite Legislation, Zimbabwean Widows Often Unable to Assert Property Rights

Zimbabwean Regional Integration Minister Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga's case illustrated a common dilemma facing widows who find themselves unable to assert their rights to communal property

Zimbabwe’s inheritance laws and legal system were in the headlines this week as Minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation Priscilla Misihairambwe-Mushonga told reporters in a surprise news conference that she would no longer battle her in-laws over control of the estate of her late husband, Dr. Christopher Mushonga.

Mishairambwi-Mushonga said a bitter dispute had developed over the property she had jointly held with late doctor, who succumbed in August 2009 to injuries sustained when he was attacked in his home in June 2009.

Misihairambwi-Mushonga said her in-laws became abusive and threatening, though she declined to go into details. She said it was ‘’unfortunate” that Zimbabwean society could not protect her and other widows from such abuse.

The case illustrated a common dilemma facing widows who are unable to assert their rights to communal property.

For a closer look at this question of interest to so many Zimbabwean women, VOA Studio 7 reporter Patience Rusere turned to Esther Mutama, a former member of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, which defends women’s rights, and traditional healer David Ngwenya of Bulawayo.

Mutama said that while inheritance laws in principle are written to protect widows, social attitudes and traditional values nonetheless leave many women, especially those in customary marriages, at the mercy of in-laws.