Botswana women’s inheritance case gets gender justice award but legal battle unresolved

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Women’s Link Worldwide on Jun 18, 2013 gave a Bronze Gender Justice Uncovered Award to the High Court of Botswana for its decision in the case Mmusi v Ramantele in recognition of its significant contribution to promoting gender equality. However, the High Court’s decision was appealed, so the battle for women’s customary inheritance rights in Botswana has not yet been won.

In Mmusi v Ramantele, an elderly woman called Edith Mmusi and two of her sisters challenged a customary law rule (or a version thereof) which provides that only men may inherit the family home. Mmusi’s nephew, Molefi Ramantele, had claimed the family home on the basis that according to Ngwaketse customary law the family home always goes to the last born son or his heir.

The case was an appeal to a decision of the Customary Court of Appeal that, under customary law, women cannot inherit the family home on the basis of gender. In a landmark ruling, the High Court overturned that decision and held that the customary law rule infringed the right to equality under Botswana’s constitution.

Justice Dingake of the High Court of Botswana awarded the family home to the sisters, stating in his judgment: “It seems to me that the time has now arisen for the justices of this court to assume the role of the judicial midwife and assist in the birth of a new world struggling to be born. Gender discrimination has no place in our modern day society.”

The decision to award the family home to Mmusi and her sisters is consistent with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and also has resonance with living customary laws and practices in Botswana.

Molefi Ramantele has appealed the High Court’s decision. The appeal will be heard in the Court of Appeal (Botswana’s supreme court) in the capital Gaborone on July 19,2013.

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