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Empowering women and children of deceased persons in religious context




THE Deceased Persons and Family Maintenance Amendment Act of 1997 refers.

This study has reviewed the Deceased Persons and Family Maintenance Amendment Act of 1997 with a view to determining how the Act empowers women and children of the deceased person vis-a-viz the doctrine of Johanne Marange Apostolic Church (JMAC) on deceased persons’ estates.

The Act provides mechanisms upon which the deceased person can maintain the living. The same also deals with the maintenance of the estate of the deceased person to cater for the surviving spouse, divorced spouse, dependents of the deceased who includes minor children under the age of 18 years and an adult above 18 years but who cannot maintain themselves.

The same provision encompasses the parents who were being maintained by the deceased. The study noted that the Act excludes long-term relationships and even when the spouse was financially stable, spouses who are gainfully in employment and who contributed towards the wealth.

Thus, the law is failing to take note of changing dynamics in the society. For example, the Act stipulates that the court considers the contribution made by the spouse to the deceased.

However, there are certain contributions by women which are unquantifiable, for example house chores, advice, moral support and help/opportunities extended to men by his in-laws, for example, men who marry from wealthy families. In modern trends, live-ins, small houses, sugar mummies are some of the modern trends that this Act failed to address.

It is the assumptions of this study that the Act does not help women and children in JMAC because the church does not recognise this secular Act. Instead, it uses its own theology and doctrine to deal with inheritance issues.

The church has its own set of rules which govern how the church presides over inheritance issues. The church usually presides and controls the funeral and post-funeral proceedings to ensure that the church rules are observed. The relationship between JMAC and its congregants extends to private lives.

Thus, members do not have independence other than the one provided for by the church. It controls the life of its members from birth to death. This shows how deep and manipulative JMAC theology is to their congregants. Radical theology may be the best term to describe it.

The first step, perhaps, is to regulate and de-radicalise the theological inheritance laws of JMAC to ensure that the church complies with the Act.

The law did not put into account non-quantifiable contributions like house chores where most JMAC women are housekeepers and labourers. The Act falls short to consider the fact that, in JMAC men do not work in fields but they are considered property owners.

Thus, JMAC is highly patriarchal where women work and men control all the assets. When a JMAC man dies, the widows will have all the wealth taken away from them by male relatives.

Children are considered a source of labour and wealth, such that women and children are being taken as assets owned by the men.

In JMAC, women inherit only assets like household goods and beds.

In addition, the Act functions on the basis of the will. In JMAC, there is no need for a will because inheritance procedures are predetermined by the church. The church also determines the fate of the widow by marrying her off to any member of the church.

The majority of widows end up embracing being married off because the church looks down upon widows. Thus, widows are less human in JMAC. The law, thus, failed to deal with the rights of widows in terms of their self-esteem. There is a nomenclature problem in JMAC, where widows’ dignity is a major problem.

5.7.2 Maintenance Act 2001

The study reviewed the Maintenance Act of 2001 in order to ascertain the extent to which the law is relevant to women and children in JMAC. This Act requires one parent to contribute to the welfare of the child including terminal benefits. Both men and women have the right to be maintained and maintenance can be claimed while in marriage. Whilst the Act is very clear that women in marriage and the divorced can demand maintenance, the law is irrelevant to women in JMAC.

The rationale being that JMAC theology teaches that no woman can approach secular courts demanding to be maintained whilst in marriage. On the divorced, the church does not allow divorce; a woman who divorces is excommunicated by the church and can only be admitted after reconciliation.

The church does not have divorcees in church, perhaps as a measure by men to guard against being divorced since child marriages involve marrying off sexually actives to 60-year olds and above. In these polygamous relationships and the erectile dysfunctional challenges that come with age, most men are failing to sexually satisfy their wives. To avert being divorced or left out, the church teaches against divorce and prostitution.

About the writer: Matthew Mare is a Zimbabwean academic who holds two bachelor’s degrees, five master’s qualifications and a PhD. He is also doing another PhD and has 12 executive certificates in different fields. Professionally, he is a civil servant and also board member at the National Aids Council of Zimbabwe.

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