Women across the globe have suffered under the yolks of patriarchal customs and taboos for centuries. However, black women, in particular, have had to learn to survive with the hardest part of the hard, the darkest part of the dark, the coldest part of the cold, and the most row part of a raw deal.
Take, South Africa for instance. Under the racial segregation laws of the apartheid that saw the white minority own huge swatch of land and forcefully evicting the native South Africans out of their ancestral lands. South African black women could not even imagine owning a land since their husbands had no land in the first place.
African traditional customs values men more than women, and the land was a resource only to be passed down from father to son. The girl child had no chance even for consideration to inherit the family land, since, upon her maturity, she will be married off into a different family.
In all black people’s marriages before 1988, the man had exclusive ownership and rights over the matrimonial land and properties. He could do with it as he pleases, including selling them off without as much as telling his wife; let alone seeking her permission or input.
A situation that left a lot of women at the mercy of their husbands. Women in abusive marriages could not walk out of their matrimonial homes, because if they did, they went with absolutely nothing that could enable them to fend for themselves. Most chose to learn how to survive in abusive marriages.
If it happened that the woman’s husband passed on, then it was only a matter of time before she gets evicted out of the family land and properties. Unless of course, one of her sons inherits the land and accommodates her in the property. A woman could simply not be allowed to own land.
72-year-old Agnes Sithole is among an estimated 400,000 black South African women who were married before 1988. After her divorce, she found herself locked out of the matrimonial properties, and she decided to go to court to fight the sexist law.
Though in all marriages in South Africa after 1988, the man and wife owned their assets jointly, and neither could do a major transaction without both parties consenting.
In her court petition, Sithole won not just a rightful share of the matrimonial property but opened provided legal protection to the 400,000 other women married before 1988. A High Court ruling in Durban overturned the patriarchal laws that infringed on the rights of women married before 1988.
The High Court ruling, and Sithole’s win, effectively repealed the South Africa Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988. A ruling that will give more women economic freedom and power to walk out of an abusive marriage. Also, protecting them from losing their matrimonial property in the event their husbands pass on.
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