In Botswana, a great victory for Edith Mmusi and women everywhere

 

Edith Mosadigape Mmusi and her three sisters – Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang

Edith Mosadigape Mmusi and her three sisters – Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang

October 12, 2012, was a great day for Edith Mosadigape Mmusi, her three sisters – Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang – and women across Botswana and southern Africa. On that day, the High Court of Botswana ruled that women should be allowed to inherit by customary law. The Court ruled that Edith Mmusi, who had lived continuously in her house and home, should not be excluded from inheriting … her own home.

The sisters were supported by Priti Patel, of the Southern African Litigation Centre, based in Johannesburg, as well as other women’s rights activists across Southern Africa. They were also supported by the earlier Attorney General v Unity Dow, a landmark women’s rights case. From top to bottom and side to side, this was a women’s case, brought by women activists, women jurists, women elders, women. Upon leaving the High Court in Gabarone on October 12, Edith Mmusi said, “It’s a great day for us.”

It was indeed, and it just got better.

Yesterday, in a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal in Ramantele v Mmusi and Others upheld and strengthened the High Court’s October decision: “Constitutional values of equality before the law, and the increased leveling of the power structures with more and more women heading households and participating with men as equals in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sphere, demonstrate that there is no rational and justifiable basis for sticking to the narrow norms of days gone by when such norms go against current value systems.”

In his concurrence, Chief Justice Kirby noted, “Any customary law or rule which discriminates in any case against a woman unfairly solely on the basis of her gender would not be in accordance with humanity, morality or natural justice. Nor would it be in accordance with the principles of justice, equity and good conscience.”

Priti Patel put the day’s decision and event in context: “The judgment today by the Court of Appeal made it clear that women are not second class citizens in Botswana. The Court of Appeal’s unanimous decision – noting that customary law unjustly discriminating against women solely on the basis of their gender would violate the Constitution and the laws of Botswana – was a significant move forward in ensuring the end of gender discrimination in Botswana. Some people had feared that the Court of Appeal would set the fight for women’s rights back yet again,” said Patel. “But instead they ruled unanimously in favour of equality and against gender discrimination. It is a hugely important decision not only for Botswana but for women across southern Africa.”

It’s a great day for Edith Mmusi, for Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang, for Unity Dow and Priti Patel, for women across Botswana, across southern Africa … and beyond.

 

 

(Photo Credit: BBC)

It’s a great day for Edith Mmusi and her sisters and her sisters’ sisters

Five years ago, four women elders, four sisters – Edith Mosadigape Mmusi, Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, and Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang – decided enough is enough. Today, the High Court of Botswana agreed. Today, four sisters and their sisters opened the door for women across Southern Africa.

Here’s “the story”:

A couple had one son and four daughters. The father had another son in a previous relationship with another woman. At some point prior to the distribution of the inheritance, the younger son told his half-brother that the half-brother could inherit the family home, when the time came. The time never came. Both brothers died in the intervening period. When the time did come to distribute the inheritance, the half-brother’s son, Molefi Ramantele, showed up and claimed the house.

Edith Mmusi had been living in the house all along. She and her sisters had paid for the upkeep all along. But customary law, the so-called law of male primogeniture, said that the youngest male would inherit. He told Edith Mmusi and her sisters that they had to go.

That’s when Edith Mmusi and her sisters had enough. They went to court.

In 2007, the Lower Customary Court ruled in Ramantele’s favor. In 2008, the Higher Customary Court held that the home belonged to all of the children. In 2010, the Customary Court of Appeal argued in favor of Ramantele. Edith Mmusi and her sisters then decided, again, that they’d had enough, and appealed the decision to the High Court.

They were supported by Priti Patel, of the Southern African Litigation Centre, based in Johannesburg, as well as other women’s rights activists across Southern Africa. They were also supported by the earlier Attorney General v Unity Dow, a landmark women’s rights case. Unity Dow found that Botswana law denied citizenship to children born to a Botswana woman married to a non-citizen, while extending citizenship to Botswana men married to non-citizens. Dow then did what women do, she did what Edith Mmusi and her sisters did. She said enough and took action. She took the government to court and, in 1992, won. Her actions opened a door for women in Botswana, across Southern Africa, and beyond.

The story is the actions of Edith Mosadigape Mmusi, Bakhane Moima, Jane Lekoko, Mercy Kedidimetse Ntshekisang, Priti Patel, Unity Dow and thousands upon thousands of women whose names go unrecorded. It was not the rule of law that won today. Women won today: women pushed and pushed again, women said enough, women organized, women persisted. Upon leaving the High Court in Gabarone today, Edith Mmusi said, “It’s a great day for us.” It is indeed a great day for Edith Mmusi and her sisters and her sisters’ sisters across Botswana, across Southern Africa and beyond.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC)  (Video Credit: BBC / YouTube)