Re-visiting the Story Of ‘Neria’ 25 Years Later
In relation to the inheritance rights of Women And Children In Zimbabwe`
Kufirwa nemurume hanzvadzi (When a husband dies my sister) Zvinoda moyo wekushinga (It calls for a strong willed heart) Usawore moyo ka Neria (Don’t be disheartened Neria) Mwari anewe (God is with you) Oliver Mtukudzi, Neria he film Neria was a well-crafted Zimbabwean film which zoomed in on the inheritance rights of women and children in Zimbabwe.
Being the highest grossing film in Zimbabwean history, it captivated both the local and international audience. It focused on the life of the protagonist Neria, who was a young modern woman whose husband died in a car accident.
Taking advantage of Neria’s grief, her late husband’s older brother Phineas selfishly took everything that Neria and her husband Patrick had worked for. At the end of the film, the audience saw Neria regaining custody of her children and her husband’s property through the assistance of a lawyer. This gave Neria the heroine status that she is still know for today in Zimbabwean film and media. However, it has been 25 years since the film Neria aired on national television but it is still alarming to see the number of widows who are still going through the same fate as the protagonist Neria, but without the happy ending. In many parts of Zimbabwe,women and their children are often excluded from inheriting from their husband’s estates and such property stripping/ property grabbing is driving widows into extreme poverty. The patriarchal nature of some of our Zimbabwean customs is still upholding the belief that a woman does not inherit anything after her husband dies- especially if he dies intestate. This is known to emanate from a history dating as back as the colonial period whereby female oppression was prevalent. Just as there was belief of not educating the female child because she would go off to get married, women were regarded as having no capacity to act as consenting adults who were capable of owning property or even entering into enforceable contracts. Despite the fact that Zimbabwean law has remarkably made a constitutional provision highlighting that women are equal in status with men before the law and further guaranteeing that women and children should be accommodated for in inheritance matters, many women and children are struggling to claim these rights for the following reasons: If it is an unregistered customary marriage, the challenge lies in proving the marriage.
Doing so is difficult as courts can require confirmation from the widow’s in-laws who are the very people who stand to benefit if the marriage is not confirmed. Till date, there is resounding belief that the laws that currently govern marriages and deceased persons estates in Zimbabwe are to the advantage of those in civil marriages (Chapter 5:11) and those in registered customary marriages (Chapter 5:07). Unfortunately, the majority of marriages in Zimbabwe fall under unregistered customary marriages. A significant number of cases which are prevalent in the ruralareas are due to the lack of legal knowledge. Some societies (although no longer the norm) still believe in the inheritance of the widow and the deceased person’s estate (kugarwa nhaka). So many women who fallunder this category are not aware
of the rights that they possess.Those who are successful in warding off intimidation tactics by their in-laws face procedural difficulties as court fees are exorbitant and are deterrence such that some widows would require proceeds from their property to pay for the cost of the proceedings. Others have to travel from afar to resolve issues with the deceased’s estate and with the current prevailing economic climate some choose not to continue with the process. Conclusively, the above issues highlight that there is still a lot of work to do with regard to reforming inheritance laws in Zimbabwe so that widows, despite the type of marriage they are contracted to, are protected from greedy
relatives. The harmonisation of our marriage laws together with those dealing with the administration of the deceased’s estates will surely guarantee a fairy-tale ending to our widows and their children’s plight and will ultimately reflect the purpose and will of the Constitution. Although it has been 25 years since the film Neria aired, we can safely say that there are many Nerias out there who are also waiting for their happy ending and many subscribe to the lyrics of the song Neria by popular artist Oliver Mtukudzi.