From the beginning of time, the principles of Ubuntu have guided African societies, but in regards to the treatment of widows, it is almost non-existent. It has become quite acceptable in Africa for in-laws to evict widows from their homes, leaving them with no roof over their head – no means of income and no support.
According to the Loomba Foundation’s World Widows Report released in 2016, more than 250 million widows around the world face multiple cases of abuse, neglect and social exclusion – and they are often pushed into extreme poverty.
Many times, because the deceased did not have a will, it leaves the immediate family members and the ones most deserving of inheriting in an insecure position. Most of these men spend their whole lives working to be able to afford necessities and certain luxuries and to secure a future for their families. Never mind the contributions made by the wife to help build the estate.
Some in-laws refuse to acknowledge the role the wife played in the man’s life and her contributions, completely disregarding not only her needs but most importantly that of the children. Their short- and long-term needs don’t just disappear into thin air. Things can then become difficult – and many times, children are still in school. Does it not mean anything to you? Do they really mean that little to you or are you too blinded by greed?
All the sacrifices some men make for the sake of their families are nullified because in-laws can just walk in one day and take everything from the very families they fought to protect. Many in-laws don’t even wait 24 hours after the deceased passes before rocking up at the matrimonial home, picking and choosing and ultimately claiming material possessions without the consent of the widow.
They don’t seem to care for it anyway. They grab everything they possibly can – from vehicles to homes to land, to smaller items such as blankets, plates and pots. What is this family supposed to eat out of? What blankets do they use to cover themselves with? What do they eat when the livestock and land they live off is taken from them? Where do they sleep when they’re banished from the only home they’ve ever known?
Many women don’t fight back because they don’t want to jeopardize relationships with in-laws, with hopes they would support them and their children in familial and cultural ways.
According to Human Rights Watch, “Widows also face strong social pressure to accept property-grabbing by in-laws, some of which, families assert, derive from interpretations of customary laws. Some families assert that under customary laws for their communities, only those ‘in’ the family, i.e., men, are entitled to inherit land and property. Others say that within this customary system, widows will be protected and provided for by the male in-laws who inherit. But too often in the modern context, there is no such protection.”
Just because it’s tradition doesn’t mean it’s right or that we must follow it. A huge problem is that people don’t always make their end of life wishes known to their family and friends.
Get your affairs in order and talk to your family before this happens to your children.
Paula Christoph’s column concentrates on positive and inspirational write-ups every second Friday in the New Era newspaper.