The High Court has ruled that a woman living in the Diaspora is not entitled to inherit the matrimonial house because she was not living at the house at the time of her husband’s death.
Justice Alfas Chitakunye made the ruling in the case involving the estate of the late Samuel Zachary Munangatire. Mr Munangatire died in the United Kingdom in 2012.
At the time of his death, he was on separation with his legal spouse. The couple owned Number 36 Marlborough Drive in Harare.
Mr Munangatire’s death sparked a fierce civil dispute pitting the surviving spouse Anna Mercy Munangatire and her late husband’s lover, Grace Nyandoro, over the property.
The major issue for determination was whether the property at the centre of dispute should devolve to Mrs Munangatire as the surviving spouse in terms of Section 3 and 3A of the Deceased Estates Succession Act (Chapter 6:02), or it should be distributed to all beneficiaries.
Justice Chitakunye said for someone to benefit under the said law, one should establish two things: that a person seeking to inherit the house is the spouse of the deceased, and that the person must have been living at that house immediately prior to the deceased’s death.
Though the court was satisfied that Mrs Munangatire was the surviving spouse of the late Samuel, the contentious issue was that she was not living at the contested property at the time of her husband’s death.
Mrs Munangatire averred that her stay in the UK was temporary, but Justice Chitakunye disagreed.
“It is in UK that the parties married and when they relocated to Zimbabwe and things did not go well, she returned to the UK and that is where she has been since 1998,” said Justice Chitakunye.
“There was virtually no matrimony to talk about serve for the fact that the action for divorce had not been concluded and they so remained husband and wife.
“I thus conclude that the applicant was not living in the property immediately before the late Samuel’s death.”
Justice Chitakunye said though Mrs Munangatire had failed to qualify to be the sole beneficiary of the property in terms of Section 3A of the Act, she was still entitled to her husband’s household goods and effects and to a share in the house.
During the court proceedings, the court heard that Mrs Munangatire married her late husband in 1970 in the UK, and when Zimbabwe attained Independence, she and her family returned to Zimbabwe.
Mr Munangatire later had an adulterous relationship with Ms Nyandoro, which prompted her to leave the matrimonial home.
Mrs Munangatire and her children decided to return to the UK in 1998, where she felt she could ably fend for her family. This, according to Mrs Munangatire, gifted Ms Nyandoro with the chance to move into the contentious property.
But later, Mr Munangatire and her mistress relocated to UK in 2001, leaving Ms Nyandoro’s relatives occupying the matrimonial home. While in the UK, Mr Munangatire and Ms Nyandoro went on separation.
When Mr Munangatire died at the hotel he was staying in after the separation, Ms Nyandoro presented herself to the UK authorities as his lawful widow, a ruse that did not work with the authorities in that country as she had no proof that she was married to him.