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Kambole, Mwenya A.
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The University of Zambia
Widow inheritance is a custom commonly practiced in Africa. In this custom, a man inherits the property and wife of his deceased brother or relative. The custom is practiced in order to ensure that a widow and her children are taken care of after the death of her husband. In Zambia, the custom is supported and portions of it given statutory legal effect by The Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act Chapter 57 of the Laws of Zambia, which legalises the marriage between a man and his deceased brother’s widow. This research set out to compare the practice of widow inheritance among the Bemba, Nsenga and Lenje tribes of Zambia. This was done in order to establish why these three tribes practice the custom and whether the custom is relevant in Zambian modern society. The objectives of the research were to establish how and why the Bemba, Nsenga and Lenje tribes practice widow inheritance and whether economic, social and cultural changes in society have affected the practice of this custom. This research was conducted by interviewing members of the communities in question and through desk research from relevant statutes, books and the internet. It was established that under customary law, women were not allowed to own property or land without the consent of their husbands or their fathers if unmarried. Therefore, when a man died, his male relative inherited his property. Widow inheritance was therefore necessary because the widow could not inherit the property of her deceased husband. Therefore, widow inheritance ensured her continued care from her deceased’s husbands relatives who inherited his property. Widow inheritance was also done in order to continue the deceased’s lineage and in order to keep the widow in the family. This research shows that widow inheritance is a custom. Like most customs, the way widow inheritance is practiced has changed over time in response to economic, social and cultural changes. It was established that the Bemba, Nsenga and Lenje no longer practice widow inheritance fully in the sense that only a remnant of the practice has survived as an option to be opted for instead of a mandatory practice. This has been due to the enactment of the intestate Succession Act Chapter 59 of the Laws of Zambia and Wills and Administration of Testate Estates Act Chapter 60 of the Laws of Zambia which provide for how much a widow inherits from her deceased husband’s estate. In addition, the risk of the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases has contributed to the move away from practicing widow inheritance. Human rights fundamentalists also argue that customs like sexual cleansing and widow inheritance are inhuman, degrading, humiliating and against international human rights that everyone is entitled to. This research further shows that firstly, the way the custom is practiced is not contradictory to the inheritance acts, it flourishes in its own right. Secondly, the practice is not injurious therefore, the custom should be promoted and the act amended to suit the changes in society.
Widows--Legal status, laws, etc.--Zambia , Inheritance and succession--Zambia