As Malawi commemorated Mother’s Day Thursday, 54-year-old Christina Mwenyako could only spend her time reflecting on her homelessness as her house got demolished and all property grabbed by her late husband’s relatives, THOMAS KACHERE writes.
Mwenyako from Dulamanja Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Juma in Mulanje District is sailing in stormy waters. She wanders from household to household in search of a place to rest her weary body.
Relating her story while sitting on the debris that is the remnant of her house, the widow has no clue about where meals for her family will come from.
She complains that without a piece of land on which to grow crops, hunger is a regular visitor in her household.
Mwenyako says she had been living with her husband for several years at a place she inherited from her late uncle until the husband died two years ago. His relatives stormed the place and grabbed the piece of land which would be her only sustainable asset.
She was also forced to leave the family house together with her two children.
“When I got married I was still staying with my husband at my parents’ compound. Then we were told to stay at my late uncle’s place following his death. We stayed there from 1997 up to 2018. We built our house and we have been using that piece of land for cultivation,” Mwenyako says.
It was immediately after she had been ‘set free’ that her husband’s relatives started demanding that she surrenders the piece of land which had all along belonged to the family.
“It was surprising that they told me to abandon everything including the house. I had possessed the piece of land from my late uncle and I have children who still need a place where to stay,” Mwenyako says.
She took the matter to traditional leaders who ruled that the piece of land should be divided into two halves, one for Mwenyako and her children and the other for her husband’s relatives.
Group Village Head Ngume further ruled that the house should be left to the widow and the children.
The verdict apparently angered her late husband’s relatives who took the matter to T/A Juma who, to Mwenyako’s shock, ruled that she should leave the place and return to her parents’ home.
“Before I had even harvested the crops around the house, one of my husband’s relatives came and uprooted the crops. I reported the matter to Nkando Police Unit where I was advised to take it to the District Commissioner [DC].
“After some time, the DC said the relatives of my late husband should build me a house somewhere and that I should leave the place although I had inherited the place from my late uncle,” she adds.
Mwenyako further claims that her late husband’s relatives had been visiting her at night, threatening to “deal with her” before they demolished her house and took her belongings away.
“I believe there was corruption involved because the T/A did not even come to see the place, yet he decided to make the ruling that I should leave the place and wait from the relatives of my late husband to build me a house elsewhere. Currently, I don’t have a place of my own where I have to stay,” she says.
We did not manage to hear the side of relatives of Mwenyako’s late husband.
But Village Head Dulamanja says he is surprised that the widow did not get the necessary help wherever she had taken the matter to including the T/A.
“To say the truth, the woman has suffered a lot and I wonder how the T/A ruled on the issue without visiting the source of the whole conflict. The widow needs urgent help. Her house was demolished and her property taken away, yet no one has been brought to account for such acts,” the local ruler says.
And for social commentator Lucky Mbewe, Mwenyako’s case—which mirrors several other widows’—is typical of the kind of gender-based violence that some women go through at the hands of their late husbands’ relatives.
This should not be happening in the modern world. It is disheartening to hear this happening in Malawi, a country with some of the most progressive laws that protect women’s rights.
“It is also a shame that some people can be so callous as to abuse a widow because of a situation she has found herself in because of fate. She never chose that her husband should die,” Mbewe says.
He, thus, calls on the Ministry of Gender to become interested in Mwenyako’s case and ensure that it addresses the problems she is facing.
“Gender-based violence has no place in the modern world.
We should be talking about making the lives of women better. Law enforcement agencies must have rushed to the scene when this widow’s house was demolished. The violence may escalate and a life may be lost. We should not go that far,” Mbewe adds.
On his part, chairperson of the Human Rights Consultative Committee, Robert Mkwezalamba, wants relevant laws such as Marriage, Family Relations and Divorce; and Deceased Estates (Wills, Inheritance and Protection) Acts to be invoked in Mwenyako’s situation.
“A widow has the right to possess property after a husband dies and how it should be distributed even if there is no will in place. Relatives of the late husband have no right to absolutely decide on their own how the property of the dead husband should be shared,” Mkwezalamba says.
Mulanje District Commissioner Stallichi Mwambiwa did not respond to our questions when we wanted to hear his side on Mwenyako’s case while the district’s Police Public Relations Officer Gresham Ngwira said the station had not officially received the complaint.
Ngwir a , howeve r, promised to follow up on the matter.