WLSA Zimbabwe Seeks Purposive Interpretation of Section 3A Act to Protect Rights of Widows
WLSA ZIMBABWE SEEKS PURPOSIVE INTERPRETATION OF SECTION 3A OF THE DECEASED ESTATES SUCCESSION ACT TO PROTECT RIGHTS OF WIDOWS
On the 23rd of September 2014, the High Court sitting at Harare will hear argument on a case filed by Messrs Matsikidze and Mucheche instructed by Women and Law in Southern Africa-Zimbabwe. In that case, the applicant seeks a purposive interpretation of Section 3A of the Deceased Estates Succession Act which reads as follows;
Inheritance of matrimonial home and household effects
The surviving spouse of every person who, on or after the 1st of November 1997, dies wholly or partly intestate shall be entitled to receive from the free residue of the estate-
(a) The house or other domestic premises in which the spouses or the surviving spouse as the case may be LIVED IMMEDIATELY BEFORE THE PERSON’S DEATH; and
(b) the household goods and effects which, immediately before the person’s death were used in relation to the house or domestic premises referred to in paragraph (a) where such house, premises, goods and effects form part of the deceased person’s estate.
A literal interpretation of the above section would mean that the surviving spouse should literally have been staying at the premises prior to the death of their spouse. This interpretation will result in dispossessing many spouses simply because they did not live on the premises before death of their spouse. Facts of the filed case are that the applicant and her late husband acquired a house in Harare on the strength of their Chapter 5:11 marriage. However after a while, applicant became subjected to violence and she had to leave the matrimonial home. Whenever she tried to return, she would face violence. As a result, she decided to stay in the rural area. The law relating to inheritance was amended in 1997 to protect mainly women and children who had been subjected to eviction and property grabbing. A purposive interpretation that the intention of the legislature was to protect women and children will result in a liberal interpretation of the phrase “lived immediately before the person’s death”. The liberal interpretation is in keeping with 26(d) of the new Constitution which states that in the event of dissolution of a marriage through death, provision is made for the necessary protection of any children and spouses. We also call upon the authorities to speedy up the process of alignment of laws with the new Constitution so that the rights of widows are protected.