Property and Inheritance rights



WLSA Zimbabwe vision is to ensure a society in which justice in equitably accessed, claimed and enjoyed by women and girls in all spheres of life. We focus on laws and policies that affect women and the girl child.

One of the major issues that we have dealt and continue dealing with is that of property and inheritance rights especially in the context of HIV/Aids. We have noted that many complications arise due to the nature and type of marriages in Zimbabwe. The type of marriage one has determines how one’s estate in the absence of a will should be distributed upon death.

There are two registered marriages that are recognized in Zimbabwe. The third type is called an unregistered customary law union (sometimes called marriage). These are described below:


  1. Chapter 5:11:  Marriage Act -This marriage is conducted at the Magistrate Court or in church before a registered marriage officer. It allows a man to have one wife at any given time.  Only the High Court of Zimbabwe can dissolve this marriage.
  2. Chapter 5:07:  Customary marriages Act – This marriage is conducted at the Magistrate Court only. A man may have more than one wife and each wife will have their own marriage certificate. It is therefore a potentially polygnous marriage in the sense that a man can marry many wives. Most people refer to it as polygamy. This marriage can be dissolved at either the High Court or Magistrate Court.
  3. Unregistered customary law union: - This arises in a situation where a man pays lobola for his wife. A man may also pay lobola for many wives. At law, this union is given limited recognition because it is not registered. For purposes of inheritance, it is recognized as a marriage. BIGAMY



Putting HIV/AIDS and marriage into context: What is the problem?

The first AIDS case in Zimbabwe was identified in 1985. While initially HIV/ AIDS was not taken seriously, as its impact began to be felt, many initiatives on prevention, care and mitigation were put in place. Despite all these initiatives, HIV/AIDS continues to take its toll on Zimbabwean society. Statistics consistently point to one reality- the disproportionate effect of HIV/AIDS on women. In many countries, marriage and women’s own fidelity are not enough to protect them against HIV infection. Among young women surveyed in Harare (Zimbabwe), Durban and Soweto (South Africa), 66% reported having one lifetime partner and 79% had abstained from sex at least until the age of 17 (roughly the average age of first sexual encounter in most countries in the world)2. Yet, 40% of the young women were HIV-positive. Many had been infected despite staying faithful to one partner. While husband and wife take vows to remain together till death, married women in Zimbabwe paradoxically are facing death from HIV/AIDS related illness more than any other group. Marriage literally leads them to the grave. The cause of death is rarely cited at funerals. The writer has lost friends, family and relatives to HIV/AIDS.

At funerals, the cause of death is given as “headache”, “liver failure”, “short illness” or even witchcraft. HIV/AIDS brings shame as it is related to sexual activity. The Person living with AIDS (PLWA) is blamed for the infection. This ignores the fact that married women are dying more than any other group from HIV/AIDS.





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