Malawi Court rules in favour of women illegally deprived of their land

8 December 2016, Malawi: the High Court of Malawi has ruled in favour of two women who claim they were forcibly deprived of the land which provided their only source of livelihood. SRT grantee the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) provided legal support in the case.

Mary (57) and her widowed mother Idesi (87) inherited the land in 2006 when Mary’s father died, and used it to grow and sell sugar cane. In 2010 the head of their village, in collaboration with the Dwangwa Cane Growers Trust, allocated the land to a neighbour, Mr Madikhula, without Mary or her mother’s consent. Mary and her mother were not aware that the government had acquired and leased their land to Dwangwa, and were never consulted.

In August 2013 Mary took her case to the Magistrate’s Court, who ruled that the land belonged to Mary as she had inherited it under customary law. Mary then started working the land again. However, Mr Madikhula maintained that the land belonged to him and commenced an action in the High Court in 2013. Three months later, the court served Mary with an injunction. As a result, Mary and her mother were unable to use their land to support themselves and their families.

On 24 August 2016 the High Court ordered the couple to produce documentary evidence that the land was leased to them. No such evidence was submitted. On 2 December, the High Court ruled that the Magistrate’s Court that gave the land to Mary and her mother was competent to hear customary land matters. The High Court accordingly dismissed the case and ordered Mr Madikhula to pay costs.

Brigadier Siachitema of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said, “This increasing phenomenon of land seizure by national elites has devastating consequences on vulnerable groups, especially women and children, including the loss of livelihood and chronic food insecurity. Although it does not set a precedent, the High Court decision sends a clear message to national elites that property grabbing will not be tolerated.”

Full coverage from SALC’s website:
Link to the defendants’ submissions in the case:

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