Rural women in South Africa win landmark case in court

January 30, 2020

Kim Harrisberg for the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported on 29 January 2020 that an elderly black women in South Africa won property rights in a landmark ruling. Two weeks ago I wrote about Sizani Ngubane and her struggle for land rights for women [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/07/more-about-mea-finalist-sizani-ngubane-from-south-africa/] and this is a similar case:

Facing destitution when her marriage broke down, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole went to court – with the help of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) – to challenge a sexist law – and won not only a share of her husband’s property but a legal victory that will protect some 400,000 other black South African women. Under South African law, married couples own all their assets jointly and both must consent to major transactions.

But for black women married prior to 1988, the husband owned all matrimonial assets and could sell them without consulting his wife – until Sithole’s landmark High Court win this month which overturned the discriminatory law. “This is a major judgment for South African women,” said Aninka Claassens, a land rights expert at the University of Cape Town, responding to the ruling against sections of the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988. “If you haven’t got property rights as a woman, you are more vulnerable to stay in an abusive marriage. This case changes these rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Traditionally, women are regarded as inferior to men in Sithole’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane, who has campaigned against evictions and abuse of women in rural areas for more than 40 years. Male-dominated tribal authorities hold great sway over rural communities, with the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controlling 2.8 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust. Ngubane, nominated as one of three finalists in the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, said this month’s Durban court ruling was significant.

This will make a difference in terms of women’s land and property inheritance,” said Ngubane [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/breaking-news-mea-has-3-women-hrds-as-finalists-for-2020/]. Ngubane has gone to court to challenge the Ingonyama Trust, which she said only leases land under its control to men, with widows being evicted from their homes when their husbands die. Despite the legal victory, women’s rights experts were wary of celebrating too soon…….For Ngubane, such grassroots work is critical in improving the lives of rural South African women. “We know the courts can protect women,” she said. “The biggest challenge for us is changing attitudes of men on the ground who believe that women are children. We are so much more than that.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-safrica-land-women-trfn/elderly-black-women-in-south-africa-win-property-rights-in-landmark-ruling-idUSKBN1ZS1FV

One Response to “Rural women in South Africa win landmark case in court”


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