An East London woman has taken it upon herself to empower widows through her non-profit organisation called PowerHouse Development Services. This is after she experienced mistreatment from her in-laws when her husband passed away.
Advocate Boniswa Mzimba says her relationship with her mother-in-law was never a good one from day one. Despite her efforts to create a healthy relationship with her, her mother-in-law allegedly didn’t even try to meet her halfway.
“She never really accepted me as her daughter-in-law. She would always address my husband on issues that required our attention and deliberately exclude me in conversations that pertain to family issues,” she says.
The passing of her husband of after just three years marriage didn’t make things any better for the young widow who was just 30 years old at the time of his passing. She describes their relation as one that was characterised by greed and defamatory statements.
“It [ their relationship] did not get any better after I lost my husband. She accused me of all sorts of things, among [them] was that I did not want her to have access to her son’s estate, especially our family home,” she says.
Boniswa found herself having to fight her off instead of taking time to mourn the death of her husband. She says the only time the onslaught subsided was when she instituted legal proceedings against her mother-in-law for defamation of character.
“The most painful attack was to be told that I must not expect to be buried next to my husband should I die because there is no space for me in the family grave yard. It pained me that another woman was responsible for perpetuating the abuse of a young widow, the mother of her grandchildren,” she says.
Her two boys were close to their father’s family but Boniswa didn’t want to scar her children by having them witness her and their grandmother fighting.
“I, however, decided to limit their interaction with abusive family members in order to prevent any psychological damage to the boys. They were still very young but they felt it when I was unhappy, they witnessed the strife. It was difficult for them to grow up without the paternal grandparents,” she explains.
After her ordeal Boniswa decided to leave her career as a nurse and venture into law as she had promised to her husband who was a practising lawyer prior his untimely death.
“I promised my husband that I would join him in his legal practice after I had finished my studies in Psychology. When I graduated my law degree in the same graduation gown that he had graduated his in years earlier, I was very proud and ready to do my part as an activist for social justice,” she recalls.
She then became a social justice warrior for the marginalised and started her NPO. “We are dedicated to empowering women, especially widows, to achieve their full socio-economic potential and gender rights in order to restore dignity to their families and the world. We are a constant and sustainable voice for widows and their children’s rights. Widows are therefore the largest recipients of our services. We also offer personal development programmes in order to uplift widows. Our programmes also deal with the spiritual needs of these women.”
She says the laws are not doing enough to protect widows and some of our customs are barbaric. Women who come to her for help tell her the most heart-breaking stories every time. Some families evict the woman once the husband dies or force them to marry his brother.
“I have had to assist widows who suffered humiliation and violence in the name of culture. Some cultural beliefs are barbaric to say the least. I have spoken against the cultural belief of ukungenwa, for example,” she says.
The advocate also points out that customary marriage is problematic in that once the husband dies, the widow doesn’t get support from the in-laws to prove her case in court that she was married to this man.
“My advice to everybody is to have a valid will. Most of the problems that widows experience arise from intestate deaths. I would also encourage people and or partners to speak openly about their assets and previous relationships especially where there are children. It is also very important to discuss the type of marriage that they want to enter into,” she advices.