23 June, 2016
Harare- On Thursday 9 June 2016, the High Court of Zimbabwe, sitting in Harare granted an order declaring that a widow was the sole beneficiary of a farm on which she and her husband had lived immediately before the husband’s death.
The widow, who is the Applicant in this matter, and her deceased husband purchased the farm in 1986 and started living on it in the same year. With their joint efforts, the couple developed the farm to its current state over a period of 33 years. They were living on the farm immediately before the husband passed away in November 2013. Following the husband’s death, the Master of the High Court approved a liquidation and distribution plan that awarded the farm in equal parts to the widow and the deceased’s children. The deceased’s children are all of age. In approving the liquidation and distribution plan, the Master reasoned that the farm was not the couple’s matrimonial property but rather a commercial or business venture. When challenged, the Master suggested that only the farm house and a portion of land surrounding the farm could be regarded as the matrimonial home, instead of the entirety of the farm.
According to the distribution plan approved by the Master, the Applicant’s husband owned three separate pieces of land in addition to the farm and all of these formed part of his estate. However, no matrimonial home was identified and awarded to the Applicant despite the fact that the couple had lived together for 43 years and specifically lived on the farm for 33 years. The High Court set aside the Master’s distribution plan and awarded the farm to the Applicant widow as the sole beneficiary.
“The Master’s decision would have set a dangerous precedent that would have negatively impacted on women and defeated Zimbabwe’s efforts to advance women’s property rights”, said Women and Law in Southern Africa -Zimbabwe (WLSA- Zimbabwe), National Director, Slyvia Chirawu. “For instance, if a couple owned a piece of land on which they built a home and used the remaining portion to grow some tomatoes and sell them for a living, the Master’s decision would have allowed a situation where the widow is given the home whilst the portion of land needed to earn a living would be parceled out.”
“Reducing a widow to the status of a child by limiting her inheritance under the guise that the property that the couple regarded as their home was too large to be a matrimonial home would have been unfair and unjust”, said Mr. Brigadier Siachitema of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre which supported the case. “The Master’s decision, if not set aside, would have subjected the Applicant to grave injustice because it ignored not only her rights as a surviving spouse but also her substantial contribution towards the acquisition and development of the farm.