‘Archaic 1929 properties law discriminating against women’

BY VENERANDA LANGA

HARARE East MP Tendai Biti (MDC Alliance) has called for the repeal of the 1929 Matrimonial Properties Act, saying it was unconstitutional and discriminates females from matrimonial property ownership.

Biti said this on Thursday last week while contributing to debate on the Second Reading Stage of the Marriages Bill in the National Assembly.

He said its shortcomings were that husbands tend to be the employed spouse in most cases, resulting in properties registered in their names to the disadvantage of women.

“Most people do not suffer a divorce because it does not matter if your name is on the title deeds or not, but women are now suffering during the duration of the marriage because husbands are selling houses behind their wives’ backs and getting into debt,” Biti said.

“The law should be that all marriages in Zimbabwe are in community of property, and therefore, we should repeal the 1929 Matrimonial Properties Act because it is unconstitutional,” he said.

Biti said the Matrimonial Properties Act was unconstitutional because it says what the husband owns belongs to the husband.

“What the wife owns belongs to the husband, but we have a Constitution, including this Bill, which says everything that happens in a marriage, the man and the woman are equal. We need to make all marriages to be in community of property. It does not matter if I am a husband, I have money or a business and my wife is a domestic engineer, she stays at home. We own that property together without discrimination,” he said.

The Harare East legislator also said rural women were suffering the most in terms of unregistered customary law unions.

“I have got an aunt who stayed together with my uncle for 25 years. Then my uncle found a young woman from the same village in Mazana village, Murehwa West. My aunt was chased away from that house with four pots and four cattle, but she built that home and it is a very nice home,” Biti said.

“We need a property regime that says even for a rural home, let us value it and you give each spouse their value. The Malawian Supreme Court has accepted a judgment that says it does not matter that the woman has gone into the husband’s village, when it comes to distribution of matrimonial property, that rural home can be shared.”

On land reform, he said two judgments were made by the Supreme Court that confirmed that land given in respect of the land reform programme did not belong to the husband or wife; it belongs to the State.

Therefore, it cannot be subject to matrimonial distribution.

“We have had the land reform for over 20 years. So what happens is a wife is married and oftentimes, the husband works in Harare or Bulawayo, so it is the wife who builds that farm, works so hard to buy centre pivots and build barns for the tobacco farm. However, when it comes to divorce, she is told this property cannot be distributed and she is chased away like a dog,” Biti
said.

“That is wrong, Madam Speaker Ma’am. You can distribute lease rights. You know that all these township houses belong to the city council, but when there is a divorce, you can distribute the rights in that lease agreement. We need to distribute the offer rights in an offer letter so that we protect women. Madam Speaker, this must be contained in the Marriages Act,” he said.

Biti said the busiest court in Zimbabwe was the divorce court and so the law should protect women and children.

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