DOUBLE TRAGEDY: SHE LOST HUSBAND, FIVE HECTARES OF LAND
By Deodatus Mfugale
Angelika Kabogo poses for a photoFor Angelina Ali Kabogo (50) of Kihesa Mgagao village in Kilolo District of Iringa Region, troubles began when she got married.
She would not say when she got married but the two years during which she has been a widow have been like hell on earth for her.
Not that when her husband was alive she lived a perfect life, but she experienced the pleasure, safety and security of living with someone with whom they shared the only wealth they had, a piece of fertile land.
But that “someone”, her husband, passed away, and with him, ownership of a chunk of five hectares of fertile land also changed hands. Angelina was dispossessed of the land by her husband’s relatives and today, about two years down the road, she still mourns her husband and the loss of their land.
“Even before the forty days of mandatory mourning were over, my brother -in-law told me that he would now be the owner of the five hectares farm which had belonged to my late husband and I should have nothing to do with,” she says.
“Since then I have had to fend for myself and the ten children that I have, without assistance from any of my late husband’s relatives,” she lamented.
While the widow has to shoulder the burden of feeding the family and working for its general upkeep, she alleges that her brother- in-law who she dares not mention his name, earns not less than 2m/- annually from the expropriated land in which he grows maize, peas and other vegetables and spends some of the money in the local bars.
“I have only two hectares of land which I owned even when my husband was alive. But now this piece of land must provide for the entire family; it is not an easy life,” she says.
Journalists who interviewed Angelina wanted to know why she has been taking the injustice committed by her brother- in-law hands down. “The first time I spoke to him about giving me part of the farm he threatened to beat me up. So I am afraid of discussing the matter with him again because I know he can make his threat good especially when he is drunk,” she explains.
Yet there is something else to the issue, “Now that he has a lot of money he bribes village government officials so that if I take the case to them, I will end to be the loser,” she notes.
At the time when journalists visited Kihesa Mgagao village, the village government had been dissolved to pave way for civic elections. The Village Executive Officer, Fabian Mwigani, who was running the shop at that time, said that Angelina’s case had not been tabled at the village government office for deliberation and in any case, the matter was the responsibility of the village land tribunal.
Information sought from villagers revealed that the matter had not been tabled at the village land tribunal for deliberation, this being partly the reason why the widow has continued to be denied her land rights.
Further inquiries into the matter revealed that there is more to it than failure to access the land administrative and legal machinery at village level. “It is about traditions,” says Awingise Manamba Longo, a woman who lives in the village.
“You see, according to tradition, a wife and her husband may have three farms – one is jointly owned by both of them, one is owned by the woman and the other is owned by the man. When the husband passes away, his farm reverts to his relatives or to his sons, if he had any, but not to the wife,” she explains. She adds that in case the wife passes away, the farm is taken by the man or her children, particularly girls.
But in Angelina’s case, the brother-in-law would not allow children to have anything to do with their father’s farm whether owning part of it or befitting from the crops grown on it.
Shedding more light on Angelina’s case, another villager Felix Kadinda explained that generally women have the right to own land and use it in the manner they wish. “Usually many women prefer to own land on which they can grow vegetables and other fast-maturing food crops during the dry season.
This ensures that the family does not run into serious shortage of food between the post-harvest period and the new planting season,” he says, adding that such land is usually allocated to her by the parents or she inherits it in the event of her father’s death. “She has no share from her husband’s land,” he insisted.
He conceded that the traditional system is oppressive to women and it should be abolished, “especially now that we have land tribunals in the villages. Such cases should now be tabled before the tribunal so that justice is done to women.”
Agnes Kabogo (42) of Kitelewasi village in Kilolo District of Iringa Region has also been deprived of her land by her late husband’s relatives. When her husband died, her brother-in-law took his farm and the one which she had shared with her husband, leaving her to take care of four children from what she could harvest from one hectare of a not-so-fertile piece of land.
“We had only two pieces of land; the one which I owned jointly with my husband and which I still have and another piece of two hectares which my husband owned. The latter has been taken by his relatives,” she says.
Overwhelmed by the burden of taking care of six children, two whom were born after the death of her husband in 2000, Agnes decided to seek redress from government institutions other than the land tribunal.
“In this village land is a thorny issue that people avoid to discuss because everyone now knows its value and would not be willing to part with it easily. So my plea to the District Social Welfare Department is that my in-laws should help me with the upkeep of the children. I was given part of my husband’s farm for this purpose,” she explains.
According to traditions, a male child has the right to inherit some property from his late father and the process is going on for Agnes’ eldest son who has just completed secondary school education, to get a share of what is left of his father’s farm. The process has also been initiated by the District Social Welfare Department. “If things turn in our favour, then we could get back all the land that belonged to my husband and it would be easy for me to take care of the children,” she says.
Asked why she did not pursue the matter with the land tribunals, Agnes said that she did not know that the body also dealt with inheritance matters. “What I know is that the social welfare people usually deal with these issues. That was why I presented this case to them. But now I think I will take the case to the village land tribunal,” she explained.
Besides tradition and culture, ignorance of land rights, laws and regulations among women in the rural areas are obstacles at ensuring that women’s land rights are upheld. This is however being dealt with, although at a slow pace, as Kilolo District Council in collaboration with HakiArdhi have embarked on a campaign to raise awareness on the Village Land Act(N0.4 of 1999) so that people know their rights.
Talking about women being deprived of their land rights, then Regina Mwakifuna’s story is likely to draw sympathy from many people. She has suffered a double tragedy caused first by his late husband’s relatives and then by her own siblings. “When my husband passed away, his relatives chased me and our three children away from our home and divided our farms and all other properties among themselves. That was ten years ago,” she explains.
According to the widow, their custom required her to go back to her parents in Ubaruku where she was given a farm by her father so that she could earn a living from it. She quickly settled into the rhythm of life and forgot the harassment she encountered from her brothers-in-law after the death of her husband.
However, her life was again disrupted after the death of her father. She started getting some harassment, this time from her own siblings. “My sisters demanded that I relinquish the farm my father gave me to my brother because he was the only one entitled to inherit land from our parents, according to traditions, and I was left with nothing.”
“Fortunately my children had grown up and they could fend for themselves,” she says, adding that she now works as a food vendor at Igurusi bus stop in Mbarali District.
Cases of widows being dispossessed of land following the deaths of their husbands are numerous in Kilolo and Mbarali districts. For example, there is a similar case in Ukumbi Village in which a widow lost everything to the in-laws after the death of her husband. There are also two such cases in Lundamatwe and Uhambingeto Villages.
Women also lose their land rights when they are divorced while girls don’t inherit land from their parents.
In all these cases, traditions play a major role but if people know the laws, rules and regulations and if individual community members are aware of their rights, then bad traditions that deprive women of their ownership of land will slowly be phased out and land-based conflicts will be reduced.