By Tendai Kamhungira
Over the years, Zimbabwe has witnessed families of rich politicians who when the breadwinners die fight over their estates.
When the politicians die they leave behind several children born out of wedlock who only emerge after their deaths, hence creating confusion as they also claim share of the deceased’s wealth.
While many of these politicians leave behind written Wills, which state the way they would want their estate to be distributed, these have always been subject to challenges from family members with most of the cases spilling into the courts for recourse.
In most instances, families would want to dispossess the surviving spouse of most of the property including the matrimonial home, which by law s/he has to inherit and the Zimbabwean Constitution does not discriminate on the basis of sex or gender.
The High Court has since ruled that grandchildren and children born out of wedlock can be beneficiaries of an estate.
Speaking to the Daily News on Sunday in an interview sometime last year, prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said there was a need to revisit the country’s inheritance laws as women are always at the receiving end in most cases.
“There are existing laws that are meant to protect women but I don’t think the courts are really asserting or ensuring that the women enjoy those rights in a manner that cascades down to the ordinary persons for them to understand that these rights are there to be enjoyed.
“Women are now protected by law from marauding relatives and I think that there should be specific legislation that makes that extremely clear,” she said.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, widows in Zimbabwe are often left destitute after the death of their husbands, as in-laws evict them from their homes and seize their property.
In a case that has spilled to the courts, the late retired General Solomon Mujuru’s children and the surviving spouse Joice, are at loggerheads over a Borrowdale house, which the children are seeking to have a share of.
Solomon died under mysterious circumstances in an inferno at his Beatrice farm, 60 kilometres south of Harare in August 2011. An inquest held thereafter ruled out foul play in the death of the one of the most decorated army generals.
Joice, who is the surviving spouse of the late general is seeking to retain the sole ownership of number 95/96 Powlett Drive, Hogerty Hill in Harare, while her step-children are claiming this is not the matrimonial home.
Last year, the estate of the late Retired General Vitalis Zvinavashe divided the beneficiaries, which prompted the national hero’s first born son, Richard to approach the court seeking to have the estate reopened in order to have his father’s assets distributed equally and fairly.
In his court application filed at the High Court in March last year, Richard accused his step-mother, Margaret Zvinavashe of enriching herself at the expense of the other family members.
On the other hand, the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s estate is also creating problems for the families, which has been divided over the property left by the former trade unionist.
This has resulted in contentious issues arising, which have also seen one of his children being chucked out of school for failing to pay school fees.
In 2014, the late national hero Kumbirai Kangai’s family was embroiled in a bitter estate wrangle, with some of the children claiming that they were being barred from their father’s house.
Kangai passed away in August 2013 and was declared a national hero. He was a Zanu PF politburo member and a former Cabinet minister.
Eight of his children petitioned the master of High Court over the estate, claiming their father’s estate was being abused.
Marah Hativagone, Enea Nyunyuto, Freedom, Ngwarirai, Manyika, Rwatinyanya, Musadaro and Tiriwamambo Kangai told the master of High Court that their late father’s estate was being abused.
In their petition, they claimed the late Kangai’s wife Miriam Rehwai Loice Kangai and the other two children Fungai Kudzai and Muchatenda are the ones abusing the estate.
In the petition, Kangai’s children told the master of the High Court that in his Will, the late national hero had given 10 percent of his estate to the Buhera South ward 19, while the rest was to be shared among the 11 beneficiaries.
According to the Will, Miriam was awarded 50 percent of the estate. They said Miriam was now monopolising the estate.
Despite the Will, the family members still squabbled over the manner the estate was to be distributed.
According to Harare lawyer Tonderai Bhatasara, for estate planning purposes, a person has to write a will in order to avoid disputes.
“It’s recommended that one has to write a will which he states how his assets will be distributed. In terms of the Wills Act and the Deceased Estates Succession Act, any will written has to be valid to the extent that you cannot disinherit the spouse of the matrimonial home.
“Deceased Estate Succession Act Section 3 (a), it entitles a surviving spouse to inherit the matrimonial home. A person cannot write in the will in a manner that disinherits the spouse of the matrimonial home. There is a High Court ruling that overturned a decision by a person who sought to disinherit a spouse of the matrimonial home,” Bhatasara said.
The lawyer added that a will is not a guarantee that the family will not fight over the estate as new family members will always emerge claiming a share of the estate.
“In as far as a will will settle most disputes, it is also subject to challenges on the basis that a person was too old or sick or was influenced by a beneficiary. Disputes will always be there because some family members will become greedy and would want to grab all the property,” Bhatasara said. Daily News