Agony of widows being denied right to matrimonial property
By Stella Barozi
Six-year-old Zainab Mohammed stays at home while other children of her age in Buguruni Kwa Malapa area go to school.
Her jobless mother, Ashura Ally, 33, cannot afford to take her to school. Neither do Zainab’s three brothers Idd, 14, who would be in Standard VII this year, Yahya,11, who would be in Standard VI and Ibrahim, 9, who would be in Standard II go to school.
They dropped out of school last year when their mother fell ill and could no longer run her small business that used to support the family.
The children’s father, Shukuru Mohammed, died in 2009.
Although Zainab has never been to school, she can write numbers one to ten and can do simple arithmetic.
“She likes school a lot and feels bad when she sees her friends going to school daily while she doesn’t. It really hurts me for she keeps asking me to take her to school. I cannot afford to take her to school,” laments Ashura.
She has no means of earning an income. Her late husband, who used to work with the then former Tanzania Railways Corporation (TRC) was the family’s sole breadwinner.
When Ashura fell ill last year life became difficult since she no longer earned an income. Her father, Ali Chanzi, 50, had to send the children to their father’s younger brother, Abdul Mindu, at Vikindu, Coast region. He then took his daughter to his home in Buguruni where he rents a single room.
“I took my daughter so I could take care of her. I had to take the children to their uncle in Vikindu since I could not afford looking after all of them given my little income,” says Chanzi who works as a casual labourer with Bakhresa Group of Companies.
Since the children went to Vikindu in June last year (during the school holidays) they have never gone back to school.
Ashura accuses her brother-in-law of not having made any effort to find a school for the children.
However, Mawazo Selemani, a friend of the children’s uncle, Mindu, and who initially, was appointed as administrator of their father’s estate refutes the allegation.
Selemani who is a councillor of Mbagala’s Kiburugwa ward and who recently withdrew from administering the late Shukuru’s estate, says the children’s uncle was in the process of finding them a school at Vikindu when Ashura took them away.
He believes Ashura did so because she feared she would not get a share of her husband’s estate if the children stayed with their uncle.
He blames Ashura, for having “done nothing to ensure the children go to school.” Selemani says she could even have sought local government’s assistance.
According to him, Ashura’s late husband left behind property he had inherited from his father including farms and plots which could enable his children go to school. “He also left a six-room house at Nzasa, Mbagala, but I wonder why she doesn’t live there. She is not supposed to be living the kind of life she is living today,” says Selemani.
Ashura and her children live in a single-room house given to her and her children by her father’s landlady. The boys share a 3.5 inches bed while Ashura and her daughter Zainab share a 3.5 inches mattress on the floor, all given to them by the land lady.
Ashura says she had to rent three of their four-rooms (she says it’s a four-room house) at 8,000/- a room a month since the house is unfinished. The money she gets from the rent helps her reduce the burden of care on her father who currently feeds her family.
She refutes Selemani’s allegation that she took the children away so she could get a share of her husband’s inheritance. “When the schools opened and the children saw no sign of being taken back to class by their uncle, they decided to come back to me,” says Ashura.
She accuses her brother-in-law of delaying the process of instituting a probate and administration cause so she and her children could get her husband’s estate.
Ashura’s husband’s employer advised her brother-in-law in 2009, to sit as a family and appoint an administrator of estate so the company would pay its late employee’s family its dues, but he was uncooperative.
He himself was reluctant to the assignment because he claimed to have been accused of planning to rob his brother’s children’s property.
Ashura could not get her husband’s last salary from his bank simply because her brother-in-law refused to give her her husband’s death certificate to show at the bank. He did not want her to take the money until they instituted a probate and administration cause. This was despite pleas from Ashura that she and the children needed the money desperately.
Since her brother-in-law seemed to take eternity to follow-up the matter, “we decided to go to the Mbagala Primary Court on March 17, 2011 where the court summoned Mindu to come to report on April 6, 2011. He came with the administrator of estate,” says Ashura’s father, Chanzi.
The court required the family to bring all the documents on the April 19, 2011 so they could institute a probate and administration cause. However, neither did Mindu nor Selemani appear at the court that day.
The court set another date, April 29, 2011 but again the dual did not appear. When they failed to appear on the May 6, 2011 the magistrate asked Ashura’s family to get another death certificate so they could proceed with the process.
Unfortunately, Ashura and her family could not raise the 30,000/- needed to obtain another death certificate.
Waziri, who recently withdrew from administering the estate after the story appeared on ITV thinks Ashura is confused.
“I am surprised at the way she is denying things. Perhaps she is doing so out of life’s frustrations. She is kind of half-minded due to life’s difficulties,” says Selemani. He claims most of the things Ashura is saying concerning the issue are not true.
Selemani says he could not follow-up the issue as Ashura would have wished him to do since he has other things to do. He says he withdrew from the assignment (estate administration) since it reached a point where he was accused of robbing the late Shukuru’s property.
“She has problems and that’s why she is not in good terms with her brother-in-law,” Selemani says of Ashura.
According to him, the children’s uncle only wants to ensure his late brother’s property is well administered. Who knows Ashura could re-marry? “That’s why he needs to make sure the property is in good hands so that his brother’s children are not robbed of their wealth,” says Selemani.
Is he in support of the Customary Law?
Human Rights activists describe both Islamic and Customary Laws which are dominant in Tanzania as being discriminatory.
Under the customary law, a widow is denied inheritance. The law states that her share is to be cared by her children just like she cared for them.
An analysis of The Inheritance Law in Tanzania jointly done by Georgetown’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic and Tanzania’s Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC) has it that “Instead of recognizing widows’ right to inherit matrimonial property, Customary Law treats them as minors dependent on the care of others and as property to be inherited by men.”
The report also states that Islamic law similarly disadvantages women and perpetuates their dependence on men. “Islamic law facially discriminates against widows and daughters,
granting women one-half the share of men,” WLAC report states in part.
Ashura, was recently appointed administrator of her husband’s estate, thanks to intervention by the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA). It’s TAMWA’s intervention that saw the former administrator, Selemani pulling out and finally Ashura getting her right to administer her husband’s estate.
Bahati John, a counsellor and information officer with TAMWA, says they receive many cases of widows denied their right to matrimonial property when their husbands die. “We receive between 15 and 20 cases in a month. The issue has now become common…because of the customary law which undermines and denies widows their rights,” says Bahati.
She says people prefer the Customary Law due to the fear that the woman could re-marry and the deceased’s property be enjoyed by another man. Unfortunately, people misuse this law by not safeguarding the deceased’s property but grabbing it instead.
Another reason people use the customary law is the fact that this does not require representation of a lawyer, unlike is the case with the Probate and Administration of Estates Act, 2002. “People opt for the customary law because most can not afford hiring a lawyer,” says Bahati.
And some women hesitate to engage lawyers lest the family view them as being money minded. Bahati says “that’s when they accuse you of killing your husband.”
Juvenal Rwegasira, an advocate with Women’s Legal Aid Centre (WLAC), says inheritance issues are among the leading issues the centre handles.
It is because of the severity of the problem that TAMWA, together with other Civil Society Organisations want to push the government to enact the law that allows people other than the deceased’s wife to administer their late husband’s estate.