November 5, 2012
This month in Botswana, four elderly sisters get to breathe a sigh of relief.
Due to a bombshell judgment from the Botswana High Court, they were able to stave off an eviction from their home by other family members.
These women are not unique. Throughout southern Africa, women are dispossessed of property when their fathers or husbands die. However, what makes their situation remarkable is that when confronted with dispossession, they went to court and won.
The case brought by the four sisters challenged a local customary law rule that mandated that the family home, which in most cases is the bulk of the estate, went to the youngest son.
However, in this particular family, the youngest child was a woman, one of the applicants. The law though was clear: women did not inherit the family home under this regime.
The four sisters who had all lived on the property at various times, and had claimed they had assisted in renovating and expanding the home, challenged the rule, arguing that it violated their right to equality under the Botswana Constitution.
The attorney-general of Botswana had been asked by the court to present the government’s arguments in the matter.