HFH conducts inheritance planning on Inhaca Island -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

HFH conducts inheritance planning on Inhaca Island

By Yvonne Coleman

Olga is 30 years old. She shares her “husband” with two other women and is considered third in the pecking order. Legally she has no rights as his partner. Her situation is typical of the culture on the island of Inhaca, Mozambique. The majority of males leave to find work in South Africa, leaving many more women than men. Olga has four children, including a small baby. She recently became the beneficiary of a Habitat for Humanity house and was concerned about the future of the property when she dies, knowing it was possible for her husband and his other “wives” to take possession of the house and leave the children with nothing.

While Mozambican law recognizes the rights of widows and orphans to retain their house when the father dies, in practice this does not always occur. It is common for the man’s brother and family to come and either tell the widow that she is his new wife, or order the woman and children to leave the house so they can take it for themselves. Women and children can lose everything and become extremely vulnerable, or even abused. Although this is illegal, the law has not been implemented or enforced in the majority of rural communities, and this is accepted as traditional practice.

HFH Mozambique is working to ensure land and asset security upon the death of one or both parents, by training homeowners in inheritance law and facilitating the writing and legalization of their wills. As an incentive for women to take part in the scheme, HFH Mozambique offers a discount of six months’ worth of mortgage payments. The project began when a Swiss volunteer for HFHM discovered, through a survey, that this was a huge area of need and that women were worried about the future of their homes. He also saw that they were keen to prepare legal documentation in order to protect themselves.

On March 23, 2006, 21 widows and single mothers, all Habitat homeowners, prepared wills to protect their properties and possessions. They had already taken part in a seminar to discuss the importance of inheritance planning and explain the process. A notary came especially from Maputo, and two influential members of the community acted as witnesses to legalize the documents.

Olga arrived late and the signing was over. The visitors were already having lunch. But she refused to give up on her chance to secure the house for her children. She spent two hours convincing the project staff to allow her to write her will. Eventually it was signed and legalized at the restaurant!

Inhaca has served as a pilot project for inheritance planning at Habitat for Humanity Mozambique and has proved extremely successful. HFHM now plans to work with a legal NGO, MULEID, and with a Peace Corps volunteer to create a training manual on issues relating to family law, inheritance, women’s and children’s rights, and domestic violence. The project will be rolled out to all of its affiliates during the next year.

At the time of writing this article, Yvonne Coleman was resource development and communications officer for HFH Mozambique.