Daniel Nemukuyu, Harare Bureau
STAYING together for decades as husband and wife without any payment of lobola, does not upgrade the relationship to a legitimate marriage for purposes of inheritance, the High Court has ruled.
A wrong perception is prevalent in the country that if a woman stays with a man for years, the lengthy period of stay with the man would qualify her as the surviving spouse in the event of the death of the man.
Some lower courts were even swayed into upgrading girlfriends to the status of surviving spouses in estate cases, but High Court judge Justice Happias Zhou, dispelled the claims.
Justice Zhou stripped the surviving spouse’s status off a Harare woman Ms Easter Dzwowa in the estate of the late former Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chief elections officer Lovemore Sekeramayi after evidence of payment of lobola was not produced before the Master of High Court or a magistrate who had dealt with the case.
Ms Dzwowa was staying with the late Sekeramayi at the time of his death at his Chisipite house, but no proof of lobola payment was produced.
However, Sekeramayi’s legitimate wife Faith and her children engaged the services of Harare lawyer Mr Norman Tsarwe of Tadiwa and Associates, to represent them in the legal battle.
The family contested the decision and the matter spilled into the High Court.
Justice Zhou set aside the Master of High Court’s decision recognising Ms Dzwowa as a surviving spouse.
The Court also reversed the decision of allocating Ms Dzwowa the Chisipite house in the distribution of the estate of the late Lovemore Sekeramayi.
“It is ordered that the decision of first respondent (Master) declaring that the third respondent (Ms Dzwowa) was a surviving spouse of the deceased Lovemore Chipunza Sekeramayi be and is hereby set aside.
“The allocation of the immovable property located at Number 31 Hindhead Avenue, Chisipite, Harare to the third respondent be and is hereby set aside…”
Justice Zhou ordered the Master of High Court to reconvene and call evidence from witnesses regarding the status of the relationship between Ms Dzwowa and the late Sekeramayi.
The judge held that the mere fact that lovers are living together was not proof of a legitimate marriage.
“Living together is not the same as being married…The conclusion by the first respondent that the deceased had two wives is therefore not based on any evidence which was placed before him.
“To disinherit a woman who is legally married to the deceased on the basis that she did not live in the house without considering where she would live, is in my view, grossly irregular,” ruled Justice Zhou.
Mr Sekeramayi died of suspected heart failure in his hotel room in Lesotho in 2014.
He was attending a meeting of chief elections officers for electoral management bodies from the SADC region.