Last week along with managing my very busy day job, I was also communicating back and forth with PEI to ensure that my house sale is not hindered by me being half way around the world. Thankfully with the ease of emails, skype and other means of communication and some stress on my part, I now have my copy of the paperwork to sign and return to Canada. If you were paying attention to my post yesterday you will see that I also secured a lawyer here to witness my documents.
BONASO is currently in the process of selling a piece of land in order to pay off debt and Oscar had assured me that I could use this lawyer to complete my documents. Being the independent woman that I am, securing a lawyer on my own, even if it was at a social engagement makes me happy. And apparently here you don’t need a lawyer to perform certain functions. When I first arrived, before going to the Immigration Office we went to the Police Station and had copies of our passports certified. This is apparently how you get any document legally certified by going to the Police Station. You show up with the original document and how ever many copies you want. You take a seat in the rows of chairs and wait your turn, moving to the next chair as everyone moves over as the first chair keeps becoming vacated. It feels very much like a game of musical chairs without the music! Finally you reach the huge table presided over by two or three bureaucrats, who it seems barely even look at your documents, stamp them with a seal and sign. Trust me, my confidence is better placed in having an actual lawyer with a seal witness my documents! I am leaving nothing to chance.
While dealing with my own real estate issues, I have also been learning about real estate here. Real estate in Botswana is very complicated. Just because you own a piece of land, it doesn’t mean that you actually get to keep it. If a plot sits vacant because you can’t afford to build any kind of structure on it, someone else can move in, build on it and claim the land. So those who are incredibly poor, disadvantaged or orphaned (see below) may have land but lose it through no fault of their own.
Also, apparently people here often sell plots of land that are not their’s to sell. The land could either be sitting empty or have a building that no one is occupying. People eager to buy the plot (often those with limited funds or very naive) respond to advertised sale notices, apply for the appropriate permits and pay for land and then eventually find out after that they have paid for a plot that can’t be theirs as it wasn’t sold by the owner. So they are without the money and left with no land or occupying property that isn’t theirs to own. In Canada all real estate sales go through legal formalities, here in Botswana land and money changes hands without the onerous legal technicalities and those who can least afford it suffer because of it.
In particular, orphans and vulnerable people are victimized over and over again by the system. Due to the AIDS epidemic there are a disproportional number of orphan headed households. This means that an older sibling is caring for one or more their younger brothers and sisters. The inheritance laws of this country are not all like Canada’s. Here if you own land or a house it does not automatically goes to your children if you pass away. In fact, it is often an Uncle or Aunt who will claim it and the orphans are than left with no where to live.
Recently there was a landmark real estate decision here in Botswana. There was a High Court decision in the case of Mmusi and Others v Ramantele and Another. Judge Key Dingake ruled that the Ngwaketse customary law inheritance rule, which hitherto has provided for male-only inheritance of the family home, is discriminatory. This is a landmark decision because in 2008, the Human Rights Council (through Canada) had recommended that ‘Botswana increase efforts to raise awareness of the precedence of constitutional law over customary laws and practices to promote gender equality’. Botswana’s response was that ‘Botswana does not accept the recommendation. Customary law is not in conflict with constitutional law’.
This week’s ruling clearly indicates that the customary law inheritance rule which allows for male-only inheritance of the family home by the youngest-born son, is not in conformity with either the Constitution of Botswana or international instruments to which Botswana has committed herself. Now it will be easier for people like me to assist the change in gender inequality here in Botswana. Like any court ruling it will take time, a lot of effort and constant lobbying to ensure that the appropriate legal, constitutional and societal rule s are adapted to reflect this decision. Since the ruling was announced I have been in meetings with Batswana women who are just as passionate about ensuring that this decision is truly reflected in Botswana society and guess what, I have at least 14 more months to assist their efforts.