Plucky Granny Fights for Inheritance Rights of SA’s Muslim Wives

May 18, 2008

Author: Biénne Huisman

Source: The Times

Soft-spoken Fatima Hassam has become the unlikely champion of thousands of South African Muslim women who are left destitute and desperate when their husbands die.

After slaving in her husband’s shop for 36 years of married life and bearing him four children, Fatima, 61, was heartbroken when she found he was married to another woman, 19- year-old Miriam, when she returned from Mecca.

But her wounded feelings turned to devastation when Ebrahim Hassam died of a heart attack in 2001, leaving her without a cent.

“When my husband died, I didn’t get anything. And now they want to take away the roof over my head. I lived in that house with my husband for 36 years of marriage.

“I worked in Ebrahim’s general dealer store for all those years . .. He was just using me, and now I have nothing.”

The petite grandmother’s eyes occasionally grew moist while she spoke to the Sunday Times this week. She relayed how she spent three months at Valkenberg Hospital, after suffering a nervous breakdown following Ebrahim’s death.

Existing legislation does not recognise polygynous Muslim marriages. Hence, when a man in a polygynous marriage dies intestate, his wives cannot claim from his estate, which is divided among his children. Polygynous African customary marriages are recognised in South African law.