Burial dispute spills into court

Source: Burial dispute spills into court | The Herald June 29, 2016

Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
In a rare case, the High Court yesterday ruled that parents of a deceased man can decide where their son would be buried.

Mr Zacharia Muzondiwa Machokoto of Mufakose in Harare was embroiled in an acrimonious burial dispute with his daughter-in-law Mrs Samukelo Mhindu (nee Ncube).

Mrs Mhindu wanted to have her husband Mr Marko Mhindu’s remains interred at the family farm in Chegutu while Mr Machokoto preferred Glen Forest Memorial Park in Harare.

Mr Mhindu died on Thursday and the family members agreed to have him buried in Chegutu on Sunday.

The dispute started on Saturday when it was time to collect the body from a city funeral parlour and to its resting place in Chegutu. It is alleged that the father made a U-turn on the funeral arrangement arguing that his son advised him that he wanted to be buried at Glen Forest Memorial Park.

Mr Machokoto also demanded the burial order from his daughter-in-law. She refused sparking an altercation resulting in the dispute spilling into the High Court where Mrs Mhindu sought an order barring her father-in law from interfering with the burial order.

However, Justice Joseph Martin Mafusire ruled in favour of Mr Machokoto. This means the burial would now take place at Glen Forest Memorial Park and is set for today. The judge would give reasons for his ruling in due course.

The ruling is likely to spark debate about the rights of women given the fact that Mr Machokoto premised his argument on cultural beliefs and tradition that “in our African custom when a person dies, he/she goes back to his/ her family”.

But section 80(3) of the Constitution provides that all laws, customs, traditions and cultural practices that infringe on the rights of women conferred by the supreme law “are void to the extent of the infringement”.

Mr Machokoto averred that what Mrs Mhindu sought to do with his son was not based on any custom. He said it was his family that married into Mrs Mhindu’s family.

“She has to follow our ways and not vice versa,” he said, urging the court to dismiss the application.

Mr Machokoto said Mrs Mhindu was wrong in portraying him as an obstacle to her plans to bury his son in Chegutu.

“We have sat as a family and taken a position,” he said.

Mr Machokoto said his son had other children with other women besides the surviving spouse. He said on his last count there were 15 children.

“The applicant (Mrs Mhindu) has no relationship with these children and has not encouraged embracing them. I submit that it would make more sense for my son to be buried next to his mother at Glen Forest Memorial Park which will give easy access to the rest of his brood.”

Through her lawyer, Mr Sikhumbuzo Mpofu of Munangati-Manongwa and Associates, Mrs Mhindu argued that her husband told her that he wanted his remains to be buried in Chegutu.

“The deceased never wanted to be buried in the city,” she stated in her papers. “He talked of his demise more often than he used to do before. Every time he did so, he would indicate where he preferred his remains to be laid.”

She also stated that her husband had given specifications of the grave that he wanted. By Sunday, the kind of grave that he allegedly wanted had already been dug.

Mrs Mhindu accused her father-in-law of “frustrating the burial order” she obtained from the Registrar-General’s Office. She further accused him of lying to the court about the deceased’s buying a grave at Glen Forest Memorial Park when in actual fact it was his own grave.

“As the surviving spouse, I believe I should have a say as to where my husband is buried,” she said. “My heart would bleed if I am to be stripped of the spousal authority I have over my sacrosanct marriage with the deceased.”

She also argued that she had suffered with her husband in hospital without any assistance from her father-in-law.

“I have been shouldering the burden of the funeral without any assistance from first respondent (Mr Machokoto).”

Mr Chandavengerwa Chopamba of Thondlanga and Associates represented Mr Machokoto in the matter.