Outrage over Liz ill-treatment

WOMEN and gender activists have expressed outrage at the manner in which Elizabeth Macheka, the wife of the late Morgan Tsvangirai was treated by the ex-MDC leader’s relatives during the former trade unionist’s illness and at his funeral.

Many of the women have castigated society for judging women differently and not respecting their rights. In terms of the Constitution, women are treated as equals with their male counterparts but this has always been on paper.

Practically this has proven difficult, with women being sidelined when it comes to inheritance.
Gender activist Edina Masanga told the Weekend Post that Macheka’s issue was a painful ordeal.

“As a woman it was the most painful thing to watch. It was a double-edged sword for Elizabeth, mourning the loss of her husband and having to deal with public humiliation, harassment and disenfranchisement. I am deeply pained that women still have to go through this in cultures like ours,” Masanga said.

Speaking to our sister paper the Daily News on Sunday sometime last year, prominent Harare lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said, there was need for the government to act on the country’s inheritance laws as many women were being disenfranchised when their husbands die.

Commenting on some of the issues that she wanted sorted out in the country’s legal system, Mtetwa said: “There clearly are very many issues, one of them is the issue of inheritance and how women are almost always on the receiving end of relatives who want to disinherit widows and children and although this has been ongoing for a very long time, very little appear to be done on the ground.

“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”.

In Macheka’s case, she has been subjected to what the world has described as ill-treatment, after being barred from seeing her husband while in hospital.

This did not end there as the Tsvangirai family failed to recognise her as their father’s wife, despite having been married to the late veteran politician for the past nearly six years. All this time the family members were also fighting to confiscate Tsvangirai’s property from his Highlands, Harare home. The confiscation of the property was only stopped with the assistance of the police.

Tsvangirai’s mother even threatened to commit suicide if Macheka and MDC acting president Nelson Chamisa were going to be part of the mourners. However, the situation has since changed with Macheka now calling the shots. She has reportedly barred her late husband’s family from their matrimonial home.

A lot of people criticised the Tsvangirai family for failing to recognise Macheka.
Popular media practitioner and women activist Grace Mutandwa was one of those people that were vocal about the manner in which Macheka was treated.

Writing on her Twitter account, Mutandwa questioned when Zimbabwe’s women movements were going to speak and advocate for women’s rights.

“My heart bleeds as Elizabeth Tsvangirai nee Macheka is harassed, abused, denied the opportunity to pay her last respects to her beloved (MHSRIP) and tormented by her in-laws. When is the Zimbabwean women’s movement going to say enough is enough?...They treated her badly now they want to go and live with her! What a bunch of numbskulls!,” she said.

The Tsvangirai family drama continued to take place even at the late opposition leader’s gravesite, where family members spoke one after the other without recognising her presence. This also prompted legendary musician Oliver Mtukudzi to sing his popular song Neria.
Neria is a song that Mtukudzi sang depicting a widowed woman’s trials and tribulations following the death of her husband.
In that song, Mtukudzi urges the woman to be strong and take solace in God’s arms.

Journalist Tawanda Mudzonga said women are always left vulnerable each time their husbands die.
“None of this story is new. I have seen it happen when my father died and with other friends and family. This is not new. But people must understand that if a man and a woman are married in a court of law, then the wife is entitled to the assets of a man who has passed, no matter whether you were brother to the deceased, mother, or child.

“Only if a will specifically states, so and so should be allocated this or that does this change. So, really people get too excited and behave poorly and because Elizabeth is a woman and a second wife, people feel free to abuse her. It was unbecoming and an unnecessary spectacle at the time when we all should have been focused on mourning an important man in the history of Zimbabwe.

“It’s a shame that these retrograde attitudes towards women still exist and I feel sorry for Elizabeth to be so publicly humiliated. Let her find some peace in this time as she mourns her husband,” Mudzonga said.

On the other hand showbiz promoter Barbra Chikosi, said Macheka went through an unfair treatment.

“Elizabeth did not just pitch up on the day of the funeral but akatoroorwa hama idzi dzichiona vakapururudza kuti muroora auya. Nhasi just because Mwari vatonga vakuti havachamuziva nokuti vanoda property yemufi (she was married in the presence of her husband’s relatives and now that her husband has died they pretend not to know her only because they want her property). Thank God our government has laws to protect widows from such relatives,” she said.

Media practitioner Patience Zirima also told the Weekend Post that family dynamics are always complicated and that it’s difficult to make a judgement either way when one is watching from the outside and do not know what happened.

“That treatment brings to the public domain the challenges faced by too many women in Zimbabwe. The progressive Constitution and laws are yet to bring relief to women whose rights are easily trampled by relatives. Society should be united in protecting our mums, sisters and daughters who are wives in distress,” social commentator Virginia Muwanigwa said.


— Tendai Kamhungira


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