No land rights for ex-spouses

I read The Herald report of July 10 2014 about Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo’s divorce with interest and disbelief.

Guest Columnist Sibusisiwe Marunda

From the beginning, let it be known that I do not have anything against the Honourable Minister or his person.

My interest in this case is from a women’s rights perspective. I am struggling with the question of whether the judgment would not have been different if the dispute was between non-politically connected individuals.

It would be remiss for the women’s movement not to see the implications of the ruling by the High Court on women’s access to land.

For the benefit of those who have not been following the reports on the case — a few facts — the Chombos divorced in 2012 and all their property was shared except for the farm on which they disagreed.

The High Court has ruled that the minister should get the farm on the grounds that it did not belong to either of the two parties but to government and could therefore not be treated as matrimonial property.

The High Court further ruled that in that context the farm should remain with minister Chombo as the “legitimate” lessee.

It is my opinion that the court’s finding in this case is most unfortunate and takes the nation to the period before the current Zimbabwe Constitution where a long history of male-biased land allocation was accepted as legal.

A number of issues arise from this ruling

1. The interpretation of the conditions of the lease is neither correct nor practical. The lease in Section 1.1a defines the lessee as the lease signatory and his or her spouse.

Reasonably, this means the spouse at the time of the signing of the lease!

This co-leasing implies co- benefits and responsibilities which the court chose to ignore.

The spirit behind mentioning a spouse in the definition of the lessee was to protect the rights of the spouse to land loaned to the couple by the State.
The signatory according to this definition signs on behalf of himself/herself and the spouse. The spouse referred to here cannot be anyone that the signatory picks willy-nilly.

The spouse of the lease signatory will reasonably have legitimate expectations of security of tenure to the land not because he or she is the spouse, but because the lease was bestowed upon the two at the time of marriage.

The court, therefore, had a duty to deal with this legitimate expectation of security of tenure by Marian Chombo as she was the minister’s spouse at the time the lease was signed.

The ruling that says anyone that the minister marries now has automatic rights that override the original co-lessee implies that the minister could have at the time of the subsistence of the marriage thrown Marian out of the farm and brought in another woman and argued that he had replaced the spouse referred to in the lease agreement and the court would have accepted it!

If we take this approach then the court is saying it has no respect for marriages and women’s rights.

Never mind the fact that couples will obviously work on leased land and invest in it jointly and one of them gets stripped of rights simply because she is a woman and therefore did not append her signature to the lease agreement.

The argument by the Judge that the lease does not have room for ex-spouses is surprising.

2. The second issue arising from this ruling is the implicit argument by the court that women should continue accessing land through marriage and ultimately at the benevolence of men.

If this judgement is anything to go by, then men continue to be regarded as the primary owners of the means of production, particularly land in this country.

In my opinion, land is too much of a birthright for anyone to be told they have lost access to it simply because they are no longer married to a certain individual.

I sincerely believed that the Zimbabwe Constitution under sections 3, 13, 17, 26 and 72 provides for gender equality and equal access to land and other means of production.

Available information is that the court refused to allocate the farm to Marian even as an effort to redress historical gender imbalances in the allocation of resources, particularly land. The court’s argument was that it does not have a duty to allocate land.

If our courts do not seek to deliver justice to women by correcting past wrongs and facilitating the functionality of our Constitution then who should?
3. Paradoxically, the court accepts that the farm in question does not belong to the minister — it’s government property!

How then does the court then go on to allow the minister to say woman (A) is no longer my spouse and I am therefore replacing her with woman (B) in terms of access to this land that is not mine?

How does one individual get so much power over a national resource?

As acknowledged in our Constitution, land was one of the major reasons why we went to war for the liberation of this country.

It has to be accessed equally by both men and women; otherwise the nation is being shortchanged.

The government of Zimbabwe is on a land redistribution drive to cover the historically marginalised groups.

According to the Agriculture and Livestock Survey quoted in the Zim-Stat 2012 report, women are the majority of workers of the land yet hold a paltry 19,4% of agricultural land in Zimbabwe. If that is not marginalisation, then what is it?

One year down the line after Zimbabwe resoundingly adopted a gender-responsive Constitution, it is yet to be fully implemented so that it works for women.
The High Court’s ruling on the Chombo vs Chombo case has just cast doubt on whether the courts want to have a role in ensuring the Constitution delivers on its promises of gender equality!

Mrs Sibusisiwe Marunda is the Director of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. She writes in her personal capacity.

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  1. This former wife is being a problem.

    1. Ngaatsvage mumwe murume aneFarm.

  2. The Transporter

    yes I agree with the writer,the judgement leaves a lot to be desired. If the wife was the minister,what was the judgement going to be? Please protect women where there is genuine need.

    1. …..and his or her spouse. This means the moment one ceases to be the wife of the principal leasee, that person also ceases to benefit from that farm Had Marian been the principal leasee, Ignatious Chombo would also have ceased to benefit from the farm. A spouse in law is always current, and can never be in the past. The judgement is correct. If Chombo marries again, that clause (his or her spouse) will refer to his new wife.

  3. Did the ex-wife earn the right to own the farm? How? By being a wife!!!!!!! Disgusting Rubbish. Women should learn to work not to suck other people’s sweat & blood. Inga Mbuya Nehanda vaishanda wani

    1. Spot ON!

      1. I agree totally a well penned analysis, the learned Judge should be very ashamed. It was more of a political Judgement rather than a legal one. A case of some animals are more equal than others.

    2. There was no sweat jack bauer, this was loot which was supposed to be shared equally, they should have divided the farm. This chomobo guy will soon divorce and will have another wife on the same farm. This was unfair to Marian and to women. Marian too had a lot of input to the farm. This was politically judged. Jack Bauer were did Chombo shed sweat on this farm, isn’t it he just got a letter whilst our parents slept in mosquitoes infested bushes fighting for that land?

  4. What would have happened if the husband had died? Was the farm going to be declared vacant and issued to another “landless minister”?

    1. From the Judgement its a “Yes” thats the implication.

    2. The spouse would be the current wife of the dead minister, so the wife would get the farm. Not the ex-wife. A surviving spouse is different from an ex-spouse…..idiots!

  5. Would the writer have complained if the judge ruled otherwise no,Marian had the best legal mind money can afford,Beatrice Mtetwa.Chombo cannot simply lose the farm because he is a man,Marian is so bitter a woman who contests everything about Chombo including the seat of parliament she must get a life and apply for another farm @ e land ministry.

  6. Read in the Herald an aspiring supreme court judge saying he had given a farm he got under the land reform programme to his son. just thinking…

  7. Where is WAG (Women’s Action Group) when you need them?

    1. Nhafu, nhafu chete pamashefu edu aya.
      The motto is” Yes i love you, but I love myself more than anything on earth. You are all there to serve my purposes.” This is what they are teaching society.

  8. The ruling is not fair. The lease is an asset, a matrimonial one at that. It is not a matter of whether a man or a woman has been deprived. According to reports, Marion IS working her small portion, less than 25%, producing food and creating employment. If it were a man losing his share in a lease, an appeal would be lodged with the Supreme Court. In this instance, the unfairness is prejudice to a woman and if I were on the legal team, I would go directly to Constitutional Court, which has probably been done already. Lodging of an application will suspend the ruling until the matter is heard. Two important things to remember: A lawyer is only as good as their client AND Justice will always prevail.

  9. Nhafu, nhafu chete pamashefu edu aya.
    The motto is” Yes i love you, but I love myself more than anything on earth. You are all there to serve my purposes.” This is what they are teaching society.

  10. Hearers are storytellers

    Thanks Mr writer for your insight over that issue. I condemn with vigour any form of treatment of women as ‘adult minors’. Im shell shocked cause the very land which is being shared using androcentric and musculinity perspective undermines the role played by women like Mbuya Nehanda in trying to regain our land from colonial settlers. Nhasi handisi kuenda kure…reflect on history honourable court!

  11. Ndoovanhu vaidya isusu tichikwangwaya now that vanetsana voda kunzwirwa tsitsi? Hapana ari right pavari vese vari two, kuna amai chombo tinoti if you feel unjustly deprived and if you feel that someone has unjustly benefited from the fruits of your toils then welcome to the club ma’am. Tatenda

  12. I guess the judgement would have been different had she not contested the same seat in parliament her ex husband has. – funny enough it was her constitutional right to

  13. My question is why didn’t she get her own farm when she had access? Dumb woman.

    1. Nhai zvako. Ini hapana mwana kana muzukuru waMinister wandinoziva asina Farm. May be Chombo and his judge-friends know what he did for her relatives..(lol)

  14. Women of 2day want 2 reap where they did not sow. After a divorce, they want 2 take everything from you incl your underwear despite the fact that unenge wamuwana ari Shuro. Surprisingly, Marian wanted 2 take everything from Chombo including his Parliamentary seat.

  15. Rimai tione kudya zvedu isu. musatiitire noise. Do the farming!!

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