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Uganda: Story of Victimisation of Widow Rosa

Uganda: Story of Victimisation of Widow Rosa

Rosa’s husband was murdered in 1989 during an uprising in Eastern Uganda. An illiterate housewife with no independent source of livelihood, she was left with four small children to look after. Soon after the funeral, rumours started circulating around the village that she had connived with the killers in order to take over her husband’s property. She was in shock, heartbroken at losing her husband and fearful of the future.

The rumour spread like wild fire, and soon, Rosa found herself not only having to cope with widowhood but also having to deal with the stigma and isolation that was caused by this malicious rumour. Even the people she had considered her close friends begun to shun her and distance themselves from her. She was branded a “witch and harlot”.

While still contemplating her next move, the parochial chauvinistic tendencies of the culture were set in motion. Her husband’s relatives informed her that although she had killed their son, they would not let her go away with his property. She had to choose one of the relatives to “inherit her”.

She said that “my husband had only one brother and his wife warned me that if I chose him to be the heir, that would mark the end of my life. I therefore picked on one of my late husband’s cousins not that I loved him but because I wanted to stay and look after my children. If I had any choice in the matter, I would have preferred to bring up my children as a single mother since my husband had left a big portion of land that could ensure our survival.”

So in the quest to ensure the safe upbringing of her children, Rosa chose to be inherited by a relative so that she could stay a member of the family. However, that was not the end of the story, as she explains “this man also had his own wife. She called me names and threatened to kill me. I had no alternative but to bear all these problems for the sake of my children.”

Worse still, upon inheriting her, her “successor husband” took over her late husband’s estate and she had to share the land with the other wife. This only increased the tension and conflict in the home.

Rosa soon became pregnant. Despite the added responsibilities of another child she was not receiving any financial assistance from this “new husband” except for the land that she was allocated to cultivate.

Then after about three years of toiling in this new situation, the past came back to haunt her. One day, her late husband’s brother came back from the city, where he was employed as a teacher, and ordered Rosa to pack all her belongings and vacate their home. He claimed that he had confirmed that she was the perpetrator of her husband’s death. It was already night, so he threatened to kill her if he found her still present in the morning.

She said: “I ran to the Clan head, who came and calmed him down and said we would settle the matter in the morning. The next morning, I was shocked to have all my property thrown out of the house and I was told to go back to my parents. The only reason I was given was that they had confirmed that I was a witch. I was only saved by my father- in- law who said that he still needed me around so that I look after him because he was ill.”

Rosa’s father-in-law remained bed-ridden for a year. When he died, her brother in law renewed her eviction immediately after his funeral. She laments that:

“He sent me away saying I was no longer needed in their home. I was in a dilemma and in the midst of all this my “new husband” was unable to defend me. I had to leave the home and live as a beggar. For over six years, I lived as a pauper and survived on hand outs from sympathizers. Then I was told by one of the women in the village that an organization called Woman of Purpose could help me solve my long lasting problems with my in-laws. I went to the Woman of Purpose office in Agule and they were able to organize a dialogue with my in-laws.”

It was not easy to settle the long standing conflicts and accusations. But by and by, Rosa was able to recover part of what she had lost. Although the clan did not restore to her all that belonged to her, at least she was able to get some land to support her and her family. It may not have been total justice, but at least the voice of justice was heard and that in future, justice will triumph.

Source: WUNRN – 12 May 2008

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