For Zhena Jambo, the grief of losing a husband has been exacerbated by his family denying her access to their five children and household property.
Jambo, from Nsanje, told Nation on Sunday on Wednesday how she has been ill-treated by the Kunyenjes of Zomba right after her husband, Stanford Jambo, died on April 25, 2012.
“My father-in-law and mother-in-law called me two days after my husband’s death to tell me to return to Lilongwe where I was living with him to dispose of the house and land so I could live with them in Zomba.
“Upon return to Lilongwe five days later, I pondered whether to sell the house when I have five children and this is the only house I have. I decided that selling the house is not wise, also considering that I was being offered only K70 000 (about $205) when we spent the same amount just for the land in 2009,” said Jambo.
She said the husband worked as a cook from 2007 until 2009 when he went into business selling second-hand clothes. Jambo said she worked as a housemaid from 2008 to 2012.
She said several months after her husband’s death, her sister and brother-in-law, Tereza and Fanwell Chimkango, expressed interest to travel to Zomba to condole the family of her late husband. She said they asked her to accompany them.
Jambo claimed she informed her in-laws in Zomba that she would be returning with her sister and brother-in-law, a development she said triggered their wrath.
“I found my sister ill in Blantyre on the day we were scheduled to travel to Zomba and she could not travel. Since I had already alerted my in-laws about our impending arrival, I decided to go and explain what happened. The reception was sour,” she said.
According to Jambo, the Kunyenjes told her that she was not welcome to their home, instructed her not to see her children and denied her access to her property for defying them.
She said the family told her it had conducted the kulowa kufa cultural rite without her; hence, she should not set her foot there again. This form of kulowa kufa involves charms, not sex.
Confused and dejected, Jambo returned to Lilongwe where she claimed that the Kunyenjes accused her of having an affair, being a witch and responsible for the death of her husband.
She alleged that the husband’s family threatened her with unspecified action for causing the death of her husband and accused her of continuing to live in their house, defying their orders to vacate and sell it.
“I left the house in fear and it is now locked under the care of one of my neighbours. All I want is my children and property. Efforts to speak to my children over the phone are met with resistance from my in-laws,” she said.
She said the children are Malita, 15, Before, 12, Paulo, 10 and twins Jacob and Jessie, 6. Jambo has been living at her sister’s house in Blantyre since October last year.
Father-in-law Mabvuto Kunyenje accused Jambo of disobedience and the possibility of having a man in her life.
He said soon after the death of her husband, the family gave Jambo money to return to Lilongwe to sell their house and also bring her sister who had been living with the Jambos.
“We sat her down and asked what she wanted to do after her husband’s death. She told us she did not want to return to Lilongwe, but to come and live with us, which we accepted up to the point when she felt ready to remarry.
“Three months after that trip, she had not returned and upon inquiry from her, she told us that she failed to find a buyer for the house. The fourth month after the burial, she called to inform us that she was returning, but instead proceeded to her sister’s house in Blantyre, defying our orders to sell the house even at a giveaway price,” he said.
Later, when she finally returned, Kunyenje said the family expressed displeasure at her disobedience and told her that the kulowa kufa had already been conducted without her; hence, she had no business returning to Zomba.
He said the fact that she defied their orders proved she had a boyfriend and that she had no regard for her late husband’s family.
“We are not stopping her from accessing her children or property. We want procedures to be followed and her family should come to Zomba to discuss the matter,” said Kunyenje.
He claimed that the family went further to sponsor her trip back to Lilongwe and even gave her food for the family, only for her to disappoint them by not returning on time, even missing the kulowa kufa ceremony.
Kunyenje said the family could not have waited indefinitely for her return, but said justice would be served.
But Chimkango told Nation on Sunday that Kunyenje has been adamant about closing the widow out, even after two meetings by the two sides.
“I was present at the first meeting in October that took place in Machinjiri in Blantyre. Jambo’s family was told by Kunyenje that she was no longer welcome in Zomba and that she should stay away from her children as she was likely to make them ill having missed the kulowa kufa ceremony,” he said.
Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlumbe of Zomba said as a district, kulowa kufa is not recognised and the Kunyenjes would be fined with a chicken if they were to be called for a hearing for borrowing practices from other places.
“The widow should report the matter to us and we will assist accordingly. I know kulowa kufa may be practised in places like Nsanje, but not here. We have our own practices which the Kunyenjes ignored,” he said.