MARANGE-For a few goats and a turkey, a traditional leader with little regard for women and children’s rights sold the family home, leaving other family members who included four minor children homeless.
But a court has reversed the move following the intervention of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). A Mutare Magistrate told the man, Stoneage Chinowaita, that the age of male oppression of females has long passed and overturned his decision to sell the family homestead. The oldest male in his family and also the village head, Stoneage had unilaterally sold the family homestead in October without the consent of his elderly sister. Their parents are dead. Stoneage’s argument was that as the surviving male head of the family, he had a right to dispose of the family inheritance without regard to the concerns of female family members.
According to Stoneage’s reasoning, the communal home belonged to the male heir while women and girls should get married and stay in the husband’s homes. The case highlights how women, particularly those from poor communities, are still battling for equality despite the progress made in crafting laws and policies protecting and promoting their rights.
The case, and several others handled by ZLHR, also shows how some community leaders such as village heads and chiefs are at the forefront of oppressing women and children. “It is against such chauvinist tendencies that the
Bill of Rights included and protected women’s rights hence recourse to the courts,” said Abishel Chinowaita, a 69-year-old biological sister to to stop the eviction from the homestead.
Four minors aged between two and nine years also approached the court together with Abishel, arguing that Stoneage’s actions would render them homeless. They were represented by Peggy Tavagadza of ZLHR. Abishel had been staying at the family homestead without any threats of eviction for more than 20 years after her divorce in 1996 until Stoneage sought to evict her on 14 October this year.
Her brother, who has his own separate homestead in the same village, told her that women of her age
should be married and staying with their husbands. He told her he had used his powers as the male child to sell the homestead, before introducing another man, Mufundirwa Tidani, as the new owner of the property.
“The 2nd Respondent paid him two beasts, four goats and a turkey. The 1st Respondent has his own home and has no basis whatsoever of disposing members,” said Abishel. She said Tidani informed her of his immediate intentions to demolish the two huts, a move that would have rendered Abishel and the minor children homeless ahead of the rainy season. “I believe that I am being unlawfully evicted from the family home mainly because I am a woman and at my age I am expected to be in my husband’s house. I have been residing at the family homestead for 20 years and has no other place to call home,” said Abishel in the court application. “The 1st Respondent will not be prejudiced in any way as he has his own homestead and he is also the village head who has power to allocate another portion of land to the 2nd Respondent,” she said.
The Mutare Magistrate barred Stoneage or his agents from disturbing or interfering in any way with Abishel and the children’s stay at the Chinowaita homestead. The Magistrate prohibited Tidani from demolishing the two huts at the homestead and taking occupation of the homestead.
Tavagadza, the ZLHR lawyer who represented the family, said the case showed the importance of taking human rights literacy to grassroots communities to ensure that vulnerable groups are aware of their constitutional rights.