So unpredictable is life. The big day is April 17 2010 and you wed a Head of State with glamour. Fast-tracked to April 5 2012, you become a widow. Not just a widow at peace, but one who is embroiled in a fight with your stepchildren over deceased estate.
Such are the change of fortunes that characterised Callista Mutharika’s life in 2012 which saw her blessing and cursing the month of April alike.
April 17 2010 brought Callista joy when she wedded Malawi’s president Bingu wa Mutharika and April 5 2012, almost two years later, brought Callista sorrow when Mutharika collapsed never to wake up.
Such was a brief married and love life the former first lady had with Mutharika.
From the memories of a wedding that had all the Hollywood pomp and splendour, as she dressed in white and on the procession vehicles which included multimillion kwacha Chrysler 300 limousine and several E-class Mercedes Benz, Callista wakes up today and thinks about how best she should fight for what she believes legitimately belongs to her.
Few months after the nation buried its first president to die in office, the former first lady is up in arms, in a legal fight with Mutharika’s adult children from his first wife, Ethel, over the property the late president left.
The fight, which has been going on for some time after Mutharika’s death, away from the public eye, according to court documents, came public when lawyers were involved and matters taken to court.
As the silent battle over the deceased estate was gathering momentum, lawyers representing registered trustees of Mutharika’s Bineth Trust wrote Callista on October 18 2012, ordering her to vacate the opulent mansion Casa Blanca Manor at Ndata Farm in Thyolo, within five days.
The lawyers, Mbendera and Nkhono Associates, advised the former first lady that the legal owners of Ndata Farm, Bineth Trust, duly passed this resolution on October 11 2012 that she vacate the premises.
The letter strongly advised her not to take anything that belongs to the trust, apart from her personal effects.
Callista could not just take it lying down, she walked in the corridors of the High Court in Blantyre to seek a temporary relief which the court granted, an injunction restraining the Bineth Trust from evicting her until both parties were heard.
The former first lady, in obtaining the court order, argued the multimillion kwacha Casa Blanca Manor was a matrimonial home whose building she helped to supervise, including its interior design and decoration.
She claimed her late husband was instructing her to supervise. She claimed she married the late president in 2010 before the matrimonial home, on a private land, was completed.
Callista argued through her lawyers Chisanga and Tomoka in her affidavit, when she obtained an injunction, that Mutharika used to tell her time and again, and publicly, that after retiring as president, he was going to live at Ndata Farm and that meant their matrimonial home.
She dismissed as false claims by Mutharika’s children, daughters Tapiwa and Duwa and son Madaliso, that their father bought her a house in Zomba, arguing the house being referred to was a two bed-roomed one she owned way before she married their father.
The former first lady spun more fire into the wrangle end October. She applied for and obtained letters of administration of the deceased’s estate at the High Court in Blantyre, making her a legitimate sole administrator of Mutharika’s estate.
The irony of it was that the estate included the Casa Blanca Manor, the centre of the earlier fight.
Apparently, everyone was not sleeping on their game, within few hours on the day their stepmother’s moved to obtain letters of administration, the children went to the same High Court and obtained an injunction around 9pm, restraining their stepmother from administering the estate.
Each party was ever steady and remained focused at the game.
The children were furious with Callista’s move, arguing in their affidavit that they were surprised that their stepmother on or about October 29 2012 applied, on her own, without involvement of family members of the late president, for letters of administration.
The children further argued that sometime after their father’s death in April 2012, they approached their stepmother and informed her of their intention to apply for letters of administration. They said they suggested if she could be part of the administrators and that she declined, but gave them a go-ahead.
Both parties apparently foresaw a long winding and embarrassing court battle.
When the matter came in court in November for both parties to be heard on the injunction, Callista obtained an injunction to stop the Bineth Trust from evicting her from Ndata, her lawyer Meyer Chisanga informed the court that the parties had been talking and had decided to give negotiations a chance.
He argued that in order to carry out meaningful negotiations, the parties had decided that the matter be adjourned indefinitely to pave the way for an out-of-court settlement.
The court did not object to the proposal, with Judge Joseph Manyungwa stating that such an arrangement saves time and costs, but advised the parties that they were at liberty to return to the court.
But as the wrangle went on, a father figure, who was supposed to unite the warring parties, Bingu’s young brother Professor Peter Mutharika, walked away from the scene, making an announcement early December that he quit his position as chairperson of the Bineth Trust to concentrate on politics.
Many, and rightly so, thought this was not the right time for the younger Mutharika, who famously said “you will never walk alone Callista” during Bingu’s funeral to leave the stage at a time when the widow, his nieces and nephews needed him most.
Peter said his quitting from the trust was nothing to do with the wrangle, but he wanted to put more energy into his political career.
Some commentators questioned the clout of a leader who fails to handle both family and political matters. Peter is acting president and an aspiring presidential candidate for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Surely, this was not the best time for him to quit the stage.