Harmonisation of marriage laws has to be done as a matter of urgency, if Zimbabwe cares for its women and children who constitute the majority of its population.
A report in this newspaper recently stated that the government plans to review these laws, but this matter has been on the cards for nearly two decades.
Zimbabwe has three types of marriages, namely
Marriages Act (chapter 5:11), Customary Marriages Act and unregistered customary law unions.
Women married under Marriages Act enjoy greater rights than those women married under the Customary Marriages Act and those in unregistered unions.
Registration of customary marriages and those in unregistered unions is optional and not a legal obligation.
These marriages have resulted in some women, especially those married under unregistered customary unions, feeling inferior to their counterparts in unions under the Marriages Act.
The Church too is known to ridicule women married under customary law, particularly those in a polygamous set-up.
One woman in Westgate was kicked out of the matrimonial home she shared with her husband for nine years a week after the couple had lost their nine-year-old disabled son.
Although she was married under unregistered marriages union, she managed to get assistance from a leading female human rights lawyer who came to her rescue following severe beatings from her husband.
“We bought this house together and I was working then, but my son fell ill when he was just two years old. He was brain dead from that time until 2007 when he died. My husband immediately informed me that he no longer loved me and that I should leave.
“I resisted and then the beatings started until someone from the neighbourhood advised me to make a police report. He was arrested for four days at Mabelreign Police Station and has never set a foot at the matrimonial home. This man had nothing, I say absolutely nothing, I made most of the money for the home. But my name was omitted from the title deeds and the reason he wanted me out was because he had found another woman whom he wanted to marry.
“He was so insensitive to my plight and not a day passes without my thinking about this incident. It seems as though he couldn’t wait for the child to die so that he could kick me out and bring in another woman. I am so grateful for the Domestic Violence Act which was applied in the arrest of my husband.”
But how many women and children were not so lucky and are now living from hand to mouth after being dispossessed of their matrimonial property?
I have a very close associate who is well-educated and holds a very good job. This man does not want to register his marriage because he has sired so many children with women he has married in unregistered customary unions.
But this very man insists that his female siblings get married under the Marriages Act because he knows the benefits of being married under such a union.
“The government should speed up the process to harmonise these marriage laws so that women get the necessary protection and reduce the number of children living on the streets following breakdown of these marriages,” a relative said.
Women married under unregistered customary unions are protected by bits and pieces of various legislation and when divorcing, the law generally does not recognise them.
Although there may be evidence of lobola/roora having been paid, some relatives driven by greed may decide to turn against a widow and tell the courts that she had long parted with the deceased.
Most women, especially in rural areas, are married under unregistered customary unions. Such estates are also difficult to deal with because decisions are based on archaic traditional culture which does not improve welfare of the surviving spouse and her children.
Heir of the estate is normally brother to the deceased or eldest son who in many cases abuse inherit property leaving the surviving spouse and other minor children destitute.
However, people married under Marriages Act automatically take charge of the estate, as stipulated by the law governing that marriage. Spouses inherit the estate when death occurs.
This marriage was initially a preserve of white people before independence, which was an elitist move meant to create a gap between women from the various cultural backgrounds.
All customary law marriages, whether registered or unregistered, are valid for the purpose of inheritance except that if a person contracts a registered or unregistered customary law marriage when he is already married to someone else under the Marriage Act (Chapter 5:11) the customary marriage will not be valid.
Recently, a 40-year-old pastor with a leading international church was humiliated when his wedding ceremony ended prematurely after his first wife’s sister produced his marriage certificate.
Namibia-based William Chakabwata was about to tie the knot with his live-in lover Rhoda Vimbai Mashonganyika at Calvary Baptist Church in Mabelreign when all hell broke loose.
Most people do not understand the implication of marrying under the various marriage laws and err in the process, resulting in very serious consequences.
If a woman marries under the Marriage Act to a man who is already married under customary law, then the last marriage will be treated as a customary law marriage for purposes of inheritance.
A uniform marriage regime will solve most of the problems related to divorce and inheritance and everyone wonders why these reforms are taking so long.
Why should women and children suffer because of lack a “proper” marriage licence?