A widow and relatives who had no mercy

Nyamirembe 2

When a very public conflict ends well everyone knows about it. Verediana Mayoya, in a yellow blouse, who was cheated out of seven acres of land but following a long, hard legal battle with the intervention of paralegals the land was returned to her where she now grows groundnuts and cassava. 

“Almost immediately following the death of her husband, she fell very ill in the midst of tussle between her and her in-laws, who wanted her out of the property she lived in. She endured this predicament without any help to get treatment. Her adversaries were intent on acquiring the property and selling it and that’s when she came to me, asking me to help facilitate the sale of part of the land on which her house was to help her afford treatment which I accepted;

“So we found a buyer and they agreed that, he would pay her in installments and that’s how she was able to get medical attention and food. At this point, her in-laws returned with heightened intent,”

These are the words of Iddi Dotto, the local neighbourhood chair at Bugambelele village just outside Shinyanga, when he described his involvement in the case of Ashura Salamba, who recently won the right to her matrimonial property.

Ashura told us outside her home that, after marrying off two of her children her now late husband told her that, he wanted to buy a plot of land and build another house and add some sort of spice to their life as he called it.

“When our house was almost complete he called me in, and said that, there are no guarantees in life; either of us could pass away first, and you don’t know what might happen to the things we own, why shouldn’t we take pictures of the house and the plot in front of it in case they will be needed as proof somewhere?” she said.

Selling part of the plot in front of the house caused her in-laws to file a case against her at the primary court accusing her of selling off her step children’s inheritance. The fact that her husband’s death left her destitute didn’t arouse pity from her in-laws she said.

At the court, she found that the odds were heavily stacked against her and upon returning to the ward office for help she was informed about free legal aid provided by paralegals who worked in that locality.

“She told me that, she was being accused of selling a section of land that belonged to her stepchildren, when in fact she had acquired it with her husband, and I assured her that, she had nothing to worry about, because legally that was her property and her, accusers would have no ground to stand on. The case was then moved to the village land tribunal, where again she hit a dead end,” Flora Mainge, the paralegal that assisted Ashura told us.

John Shija, the Program Manager at Paralegal Centre Shinyanga (PACESHI), the regional organizational overseeing paralegal work across the region, explained that, at that point the case was beyond the boundaries within which paralegals are legally allowed to work, thus PACESHI had to handle it.

“We saw that, Ashura did stand to win the case, and with the fact that, she was a co-owner of the land with her now deceased husband, we sought to counter the accusation and the ward land tribunal sided with our plea and recognized her as the rightful owner of the disputed piece of land,” he told us.

This was quite a long, treacherous path that Ashura treaded and coming out the victor has meant a huge difference for her and allowed her to put her life together and put this painful past to one side.

This eventuality made possible by readily-available access to justice has turned her into a point of reference for other women or widows like her. Many such women find themselves at the centre of scrimmages over rights that are legally theirs, but are prohibited from accessing them by close relatives, who either don’t know or refuse to accept that, women have the same right as men to inherit property.

LSF makes this possible for victims of male dominance like Ashura, through the daily work of paralegals, who form the backbone of legal services at the community level, up and down the country. A small piece of land that she sold to cover food and medical costs turned into the source of great suffering for her, but eventually, she found help and a way out of it through legal aid.

“I also won back a motorcycle, a power generator, three acres and several heads of cattle. I sold the three acres and the cattle and paid off Sh.4 million worth of debt that I accumulated over the course of my illness and other expenses I borrowed money to cover.  I have a tenant at this house, and generally I’m doing quite well. I’m profoundly grateful for the legal aid, that enabled me to defend my right,” she said.

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