Frozen out of inheritance

Frozen out of inheritance

MASERU – Frozen out of inheritance because of their gender, many women in Lesotho watch helplessly as male relatives grab family property.
Take 38-year-old Selloane Shale. To protect her own life, she has not set foot in her late father’s house for the past six years after one of her close male relatives chased her out at night, threatening to shoot her.

She says she hurriedly grabbed her then eight-year-old son by the arm and fled.
“One Monday evening he came into the house and chased both my child and I out of the house,” Shale says, her voice trembling with emotion.
“He said whenever we needed to visit, we should write a letter explaining why we want to visit.”

“There is nothing more painful than seeing your home but without access to it, especially because that is the only home I know. Now I am living in a rented house as if I do not have a home,” she says. The relative’s gripe was that her late father had appointed Shale, then only a teenager, as the executor of his will and sole signatory to some of the estates.
Basotho customs frown on women being appointed heirs to their parents’ property.

An agent of the National Security Service, Shale’s father, Khotso Clement Shale was shot dead while on duty in Mafeteng in 1996. She was only 16 years old then.
Shale says the family elders told her that documents that expressed her father’s will and testament would be kept by her male close relative because, according to the law, she was still a minor.
“I was content with that because I was a child,” she says.

But soon, she realised the relative was hostile towards her and would sometimes beat her for no apparent reason.
In 2011, after the death of her grandmother, Shale was again regarded as inferior.
She was aware that her father had expressed in his will that she was the one who would sign for the release of funds from a local insurance company when her grandmother died.

To her shock, the same relative who snatched the house had taken control of the funds and diverted them to personal use instead of buying items for the funeral.
She recalls that she approached the insurance company to enquire how the relative managed to sign for the money.
The response was that the relatives “produced authentic papers”.

She received a similar answer at the police fraud unit.
Her tenacity to fight for her rights resulted in her being forced out of the family home.
Shale says she went to the local chief to seek protection but the chief, being a traditionalist, did not come to her rescue.
Shale did not know about the office of the Master of the High Court then.

The Master, ’Matahleho Matiea, says Shale could have received help if she had approached her office.
Matiea encouraged people embroiled in estate disputes to approach her office for advice and guidance.

Shale was one of several women who attended an indaba on violence against women organised by BAM Consultancy last week.
Speaking at the indaba, the Director in the Ministry of Gender ’Matau Futho-Letsatsi said findings by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the case of Mpho Mapetla, a young woman who is fighting for her father’s inheritance, earlier in May triggered interest in inheritance issues.

The PAC found that the office of the Master of the High Court fraudulently distributed the estate to underserving people.
The Master has since denied any wrongdoing and said the committee lacked jurisdiction to review her decisions.
“We are out to search for other people who have such misfortunes,” Futho-Letsatsi says.

“Some are children whose educational prospects are being hampered because they are denied what really belong to them,” she says.
“We have such cases at the ministry and all we do is to raise awareness to Basotho about inheritance through public gatherings and workshops.”
The Minister of Gender Dr. Mahali Phamotse says the focus on domestic violence was due to the fact that Lesotho has been using the Law of Lerotholi, which gives males the right to inheritance, leaving women in the cold.

“Basotho do not fully understand or know about inheritance so as a ministry we are out in search of people who are experiencing prejudice because of other people’s lack of understanding of our customary laws,” Phamotse says.
Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA)’s Senior Programme Officer Mohau Mohau says such cases were rife.

“Whenever we come across such issues we just mediate by taking the matters to court if need be or advise them on offices to visit for help,” she says.
The Master of the High Court says they are bound to help anyone who is denied inheritance.
“If reporting is done correctly the office will always help,” she says.

Currently there are over 70 cases before the Maseru Judicial Commissioner’s Court, the magistrates’ court and the High Court in which women are fighting for inheritance of property.
There could be more such cases in local courts such as the customary court of first instance.
One of the cases involves the family of a blind woman and her two blind daughters who are fighting against a cousin who sold their property and kicked them out in Sekamaneng.
The blind woman, Mary Tau, filed an urgent application in the High Court in March seeking an interdict against ’Mapulane Sootho, who bought the property in dispute, from developing it pending finalisation of the case.

In the certificate of urgency, Advocate Lereko Ketsi says Tau and her children “are left in dire circumstances of abject poverty and homelessness” because Sesinyi and Sootho have “unlawfully driven them from their home”.

Tau has joined the Master of the High Court, Estate of the late ’Maaron Sesinyi, Land Administration Authority, Officer Commanding Mabote Police and the Commissioner of Police in the suit.
She is still waiting for the court outcome.
In the meantime, many women believe it is time local cultural practices take the rights of women into account.

Nkheli Liphoto

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