I remember when my stepfather died back in 2007, days after the burial, there was tension in the air about the inheritance. Within a few days, my mother was stripped of everything. There was no regard of his will, his family felt it was their right to own all his properties. Thus, they left most of the children high and dry. That is the greediness that runs in a lot of African families. Before I finish my Advocacy week, I wanted to talk about this barbaric act that still has not been put to an end.
My motivation to write this piece comes from recent acts that took place in the compound I stay. A neighbour of mine was moving out to a new home, both her and her husband decided to completely buy new appliances for the new house and share the old ones to their relatives. Their hope was that they would be shared equally towards both sides. However, when the day to share came, she was shocked to see her husband’s side of the family hold on to about 75% of property while her side only got 25%. One question arose:
is this what would happen if my husband was to die today?
This is a question that runs through a lot of women’s minds. More especially when their husband dies, they face an unforeseeable future. Regardless of the Property and Inheritance Rights being established in many countries across Africa, the greediness mentality has not been abolished to make people follow the set laws.
reasons of greediness and inheritance issues
There are many reasons why we have inheritance issues in Africa. I just wanted to share the few floating in my mind currently:
This is an issue that runs deep in our blood. We always feel entitled to people’s wealth, property and more. We see people’s success as our own, literally. Often, we have no way of dividing personal success and those that benefit us all. So, each time our relation buys a car, a new sofa set or a house, we imagine ourselves as being part owners of their money and property. When they suddenly die, we claim the property regardless of the immediate family left behind.
I know, this is a hard pill to swallow but it is the unfortunate truth. Living in a patriarchal society means that some rights and privileges are stripped from the rightful heirs. Such societies and cultures will prohibit women from inheriting their partner’s properties or even be allowed to own land. Some cultures, like in the northern part of Malawi, allow that a male relative (e.g brother of deceased) to inherit the widow. Meaning, they are to marry the widow and take over as the new head of house in the deceased family.
3. lack of knowledge and understanding of the law
True freedom, which is full joy, is the complete recognition of law and adaptation to it. Bondage comes from ignorance of law or opposition to it.– Author: John Andreas Widtsoe
The most vulnerable are those that do not know the law and their rights. Not due to negligence, but lack of accessibility. Accessibility in this term does not only mean finding the documents of constitutions. It also means not having people to fully explain what the laws mean and how they can applied. Having a society that does not understand the law means having a society still living in chains. The unfortunate truth of most women.
Most have no idea of the existence of the Wills and Inheritance Act. They do not understand that having their properties grabbed because of the death of their spouse is a criminal act that can be tried and persecuted in the courts of laws.
In her autobiography titled “Fearless Fighter’, Vera Chirwa (Malawi’s first female lawyer an d human rights activist), shed light on the need to educate the masses about their rights and laws. She said,
The parliamentarians should encourage their constituencies to discuss and ultimately embrace the Wills and Inheritance Act, but they fail to involve their voters.
Indeed, people ought to be drilled on their rights, gently, so they accept and embrace them and thus learn to apply them in their everyday lives.
But more so, we ought to fight our greediness and entitled mentalities. We need to separate moments of kindness by relatives richer than us as an invitation to treaty when they die. We do not co-own their property or estates, that was their personal success and wealth. Once we fight this disease we harbour in our minds, the patriarchy way of thinking, and learn to understand the laws that govern us, the closer we get to a liberated society.
Have you ever been a victim of property grabbing? Please share your story in the comment section below.