Crime & CourtsZimbabwe

High Court Ruling Shakes Marriage Foundations: Spouses Without Title Deeds Powerless to Evict Lovers

In a groundbreaking decision that has sent shockwaves through the nation, the High Court of Masvingo has dealt a blow to the sanctity of marriage. The court ruled that a married spouse without title deeds has no legal grounds to evict their partner’s lover from the matrimonial homestead. This controversial judgment, granted on appeal by Justice Garainesu Mawadze and Justice Sunsley Zisengwe, has raised questions about the existing legal framework and its implications for gender equality and women’s rights.

Need for Legal Reform

The Masvingo Mirror reports that Justice Zisengwe, delivering the judgment, emphasized the need for legal reform, highlighting that the current state of affairs contradicts the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which Zimbabwe has ratified. The ruling effectively relegates women to an inferior status in matters of property ownership, control, and disposal within the context of marriage.

Unequal Treatment and Erosion of Dignity

In his remarks, Justice Zisengwe expressed concern over the unequal treatment of women and the erosion of their dignity within marital relationships. He argued that women in monogamous marriages should have the same rights as their husbands to initiate eviction proceedings against paramours. The court acknowledged that allowing spouses to bring live-in girlfriends or mistresses into the matrimonial home without consequences undermines gender equality and the principles enshrined in the Constitution.

“I find the proposition that a husband is at liberty to bring live-in girlfriends into the matrimonial home with impunity is inimical to the principle of equality between the sexes and appears to be providing a right carte-blanche to men to bring into the matrimonial home live-in mistresses.

“Not only does that offend the express provisions of the Constitution as aforesaid, but also runs contrary to the ideal spouse in the CEDAW which Zimbabwe has ratified. A married woman should not be placed in the invidious and inequitable position where she is compelled to choose between continuing with the marriage and endure this kind of severe emotional abuse or simply get a divorce.”

Landmark Case: Jane Musindo vs. Mbuya Leocadia Kereke nee Muroiwa

The case that led to this landmark ruling involved Jane Musindo (42), who was evicted from the Kereke homestead by Mbuya Leocadia Kereke nee Muroiwa (74). The court recognized Jane’s relationship with Sekuru Augustine Tongai Kereke (83) as being adulterous and referred to her as his mistress. The ruling clarified that Mbuya Kereke, despite being married under the Marriage Act, does not possess the legal capacity to evict Jane as she does not own the homestead. Instead, Mbuya Kereke can only seek damages for the adulterous relationship.

In the context of this case, it is common cause that the Kereke homestead belongs to Kereke who has found it fit to invite Jane thereto. Not being the owner of the said homestead, therefore, the respondent was unable to establish one of the prerequisites for an order for eviction. Her claim in that regard could not and should not have succeeded,” said Justice Zisengwe.

Calls for Legal Reforms

The High Court judgment has sparked debates about the need for comprehensive legal reforms to address the inherent gender biases within the existing legal system. Advocates argue that women should not be forced to choose between enduring emotional abuse within their marriages or seeking divorce. They emphasize the urgency of empowering married women with the right to protect the sanctity of their unions and seek eviction orders against intruders.

Implications and the Way Forward

The High Court’s ruling has left many questioning the foundations of marriage in Zimbabwe. As the public grapples with the implications of this decision, it is clear that the issue of property rights and gender equality within marital relationships requires immediate attention and reform. The ruling’s contradiction with international conventions and its impact on women’s rights highlight the necessity of creating a more equitable legal framework. The path forward lies in addressing these concerns, ensuring the protection of individuals’ dignity within their marriages, and promoting gender equality in all aspects of the law.

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