A phone number that led to a new direction rded her share of matrimonial property.

Mbalali 2

When Zalia Ali called Edison Mwakyembe a door that led to the end of her troubled marriage opened and with it the opportunity to become legally empowered enough to even represent herself in a court of law and eventually be awarded her share of matrimonial property.

Zalia Ali’s sister was a passenger on a bus travelling from Mbeya to Mbarali when in the course of conversations among passengers, she overheard another passenger explaining where and how to get legal aid.

Before disembarking, she asked for the passenger’s phone number and that was the beginning of the end of Zalia’s marital nightmare.

Zalia was married in 2011, and became the fourth wife, in what would eventually turn out to be a tumultuous marriage. She describes her early married years as blissful having been able to own a pharmacy, a mobile money agent outlet and trading in rice.

“We lived very happily, however, after a while his behaviour began to change, there were days when he wouldn’t return home and when he did, I would endure beatings. He stopped providing upkeep, and along with our son, we also lived with two of his other seven children, and that meant life turned into a living hell,” she says of her ex-husband.

They were married under Islamic law, and when she saw that, the situation was getting worse by the day, she consulted a sheikh, who went over to their home and spoke with her husband at length, but to avail.

He eventually abandoned her and the children, sometimes not returning home for up to a week, thus forcing Zalia into no other way, but to report him to the police and then to social services, because even food was now hard to come by.

Her father offered to help her with food, which sustained them for some time. At social services Zalia asked to take her child and leave to return to her parents, but he still managed to report falsely to the police claiming, she had disappeared with their child.

When she was summoned to court, she explained her situation, but for some reason, she says, he won the case.

Edison Mwakyembe, who leads the local paralegal organization in Mbarali, was the passenger on the bus that Zalia’s sister overheard giving out information on legal aid. After arriving home, she gave Zalia the number and insisted that, she call and speak to Mwakyembe.

“Zalia informed me over the phone that she endured severe abuse at home and a host of other mistreatments, and I asked her to meet with me, so we could find the most effective way of helping her. It was important to first establish whether she understood her basic rights, and I soon confirmed that, she was confident enough to defend herself in court, which would be very helpful once she fully understood her rights. This allowed me to build her capacity by coaching her on what to say and how to respond to questions without fear or panic,” says Mwakyembe.

The most crucial outcome that was being pursued was an amicable end to the marriage, custody of her child and a fair share of matrimonial property to allow Zalia to lead her own life free of abuse and pain.

When court day arrived she was able to put her case successfully before the judge and with the prior assistance from Mwakyembe, she won the case and was subsequently awarded custody of the child while her ex-husband was ordered to provide Tsh.30,000 in upkeep every month.

Further to that, she received a 50/50 share of all property that they owned together, something that he objected to and appealed.

“The fact that, we as paralegals cannot make a representation in court meant that an advocate had to be engaged. We therefore requested pro bono help from the Mbeya chapter of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), who assigned a lawyer to work with her. We were delighted, because the advocate successfully argued on her behalf and her ex-husband’s appeal was struck down, thus allowing her awards to stand,” explains Mwakyembe.

Today Zalia has moved on and is rebuilding her life one day at a time. “I intend to buy a plot of land and build a new house.  I’m considering starting a small business, but along with that, I want to also focus on rice farming, which is our mainstay around here. In doing all these things, the welfare of my child remains my priority. I urge other women not to lose hope even if getting help may seem difficult. Were it not for the chance encounter that my sister had with the paralegal, I would never have known that justice is accessible,” Zalia concludes.

Her story provides yet more insight into the effectiveness of legal services, even in the most unlikely settings. From the moment, her sister took the paralegal’s number right through the tempestuous path that, her ordeal took to the involvement of the advocate the path that, justice took to liberate her was long but worth it.

She will go on to start afresh, but a more confident woman because access to justice was extended to her right on time, thus reinforcing LSF’s objective of seeing downtrodden women being able to rise up and shake off the vestiges of poverty and abuse.

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