By Gift Phiri
Morgan Tsvangirai’s widow Elizabeth faces the spectre of being deprived of her inheritance following the death of her husband on Wednesday last week.
The Daily News can report that the Tsvangirai family has severed ties with the former prime minister’s widow as it girds its loins, ready to strip her of property and evict her from the majestic Highlands mansion.
This may, however, turn to be an uphill task because, legally, the surviving spouse inherits whatever would have been left behind by her husband or wife, unless there are special circumstances inhibiting this.
A businesswoman in her own right, the grieving widow has faced persecution from some of her in-laws from the time her husband has been on his deathbed.
There was even an attempt to ban Elizabeth from her husband’s funeral, with her furious mother-in-law captured on State TV on Saturday night threatening to commit suicide if she is allowed to mourn her husband at his Highlands home.
Tsvangirai will be buried in Humanikwa village tomorrow after his body was flown back home from South Africa on Saturday aboard a South African Airways plane.
The Daily News understands Elizabeth, 41, had considered suicide herself because of the harassment she has suffered since her husband became bedridden.
There was an attempt to remove her as next of kin at the top-notch 190-bed Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre (WDGMC) in Johannesburg, where Tsvangirai was admitted, but this was thwarted by the MDC leader.
Close relatives of the MDC leader accused Elizabeth of backing MDC acting president, Nelson Chamisa, to succeed Tsvangirai and feared she could put pressure on him to facilitate his ascendancy to the throne without following the party’s constitution.
Tsvangirai’s wife enjoys cordial relations with the youthful acting MDC president.
The family members also threatened to assault her in hospital.
Following the MDC leader’s death, focus is now on his estate.
Not much is known about Tsvangirai’s wealth.
Before he joined the unity government in 2009, he had largely lived a modest life and often criticised Zanu PF chefs of engaging in “primitive accumulation of wealth”.
His Highlands mansion is probably his biggest asset, followed by his Strathaven property, which he acquired with his first wife Susan, who died in a car crash in 2009 shortly after Zimbabwe’s inclusive government was sworn into power.
He also had a few personal cars, cattle, goats and sheep.
It is unlikely he still had cash in the bank since his battle against cancer depleted much of it.
Following his visit to Tsvangirai’s mansion in Highlands in Harare last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa assured the MDC leader that he will work towards releasing his pension and other benefits, while also enabling him to retain his imposing mansion acquired for him when he was prime minister in the inclusive government of 2009 and 2013.
The family now wants to disinherit the widow of the matrimonial home
The Daily News can exclusively reveal that before his death, Tsvangirai consulted his lawyer Innocent Chagonda of leading Harare law firm Atherstone & Cook about his estate more than three times, apparently fearing that his beloved spouse would become a victim of property grabbing by his relatives.
“He was consulting me,” Chagonda — a longstanding Tsvangirai lawyer, said.
The top Harare lawyer said Tsvangirai consulted him to determine whether probate was necessary, and to assess if there may be any problems or contentions, saying the settlement would offer him priceless peace of mind.
Probate, or estate administration, is the process by which a deceased person’s property, known as their “estate,” is passed to the heirs and beneficiaries named in their will.
Chagonda said he offered him sound legal advice. He declined to state what legal advice he proffered to Tsvangirai, instead explaining what the law says.
“If you die interstate, your matrimonial home will be inherited by the wife and the residue will be divided equally between the children and the wife,” Chagonda, a veteran lawyer, told the Daily News.
He was referring to the intestate succession by spouses that is governed by the Deceased Estates Succession Act (Chapter 6:02).
In terms of this law, whether one is married in community of property or out of community of property, where no will is left, the surviving spouse is entitled to receive from the free residue of the estate all household goods and effects and the matrimonial home.
In addition, such a spouse will also inherit, together with the deceased’s children, the remainder of the property that does not constitute household assets.
Depending on the circumstances, it is also possible for the surviving spouse to inherit in full the entire estate of a spouse who is late.
The provisions of the Act, makes property grabbing blatantly illegal.
Elizabeth’s lawyer Harris Nkomo said he is yet to receive instructions from his client to contest the said decision to disinherit her.
“She hasn’t consulted me yet over this,” Nkomo told the Daily News.
Zimbabwean courts have been frowning at property dispositions from widows even where the deceased would have left no written will.
Legal experts said if she is deprived by the greed of relatives, she reserves the right to approach the courts relying on Deceased Estates Succession Act (Chapter 6:02) for protection, or recovery of looted assets.
In an October 2017 landmark ruling on a challenge made by a Mutare widow who had been excluded from her husband’s estate, Justice Loice Matanda-Moyo declared the woman the sole beneficiary of the matrimonial home in one of the leafy suburbs in the eastern border town.
The judge ruled that disinheriting a widow of the matrimonial home prejudices the rights of the spouse and such action is unlawful under Section 86 of the Constitution.
Tsvangirai wed Elizabeth nee Macheka in September 2012 after a messy fallout with his ex-wife Locadia Karimatsenga, who was much loved by the family, especially by the mother of the late opposition leader.
Tsvangirai got married to Karimatsenga after the death of his first wife, Susan.
Nine years after his marriage to Elizabeth, the former trade unionist breathed his last on Wednesday last week, at the age of 65.
He had fought a two-year battle with cancer of the colon.
His condition deteriorated rapidly in recent days after he refused to eat, protesting the ill-treatment of his wife by his family, and the seizure of his diplomatic passport from his beloved spouse by his brothers.
The former prime minister’s death has widened cleavages in the MDC, coming five months ahead of the first presidential, parliamentary and municipal poll due to be held in the former British colony since the end of toppled despot Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule last November.
Tsvangirai’s illness, that he publicly announced mid-2016, has fomented division in his MDC party, with three deputy leaders, Chamisa, Elias Mudzuri and Thokozani Khupe engaged in mortal combat to succeed the former trade union leader.
The row has also sucked in the family, which is apparently backing Mudzuri.
The party’s national council — the highest decision making body in between congresses — has chosen Chamisa to be the acting leader to spearhead a presidential campaign against a resurgent ruling Zanu PF and prepare for an extraordinary congress within 12 months.
Without its founder leading the 18-year-old party, the MDC has been thrown into chaos and could even split, handing a gift to Zimbabwe’s new president, Mnangagwa.
A broader alliance of seven political parties formed by Tsvangirai last year to take on Zanu PF has also entered unchartered territory and a period of uncertainty.
Khupe and Mudzuri have accused Chamisa of demonstrating an unhealthy haste to grab the reins of power while the party is still in mourning.
At the same time, Khupe has undermined Tsvangirai’s own commitments to building the MDC Alliance — the late leader’s legacy project which provided the best opposition hope for taking on the incumbent Zanu PF. Daily News