A story from Tanzania

No boy child, no land

Von Zawadi Kaatano

My name is Zawadi Kaatano. I am 42 years old and a mother of four daughters who have borne three grandsons. In 1994, I went for a blood test to establish my health status after being attacked by a series of illness. The doctors told me that I had contacted the deadly HIV virus. In 1999 my beloved husband died, leaving me with four daughters. I was the second wife to my husband. The first wife was blessed to have six children, five males and one female. According to the traditions and cultures of Kagera people, each male was given a piece of land to own as an inheritance and was given responsibility to take care of one of his sisters. As I had no male child I was not considered in this process of land distribution together with my children. Due to this fact I was forced to leave my house to my father’s house and leave my children to be taken care of by their brothers. But this was not possible. First of all, their brothers were too young to be able to take care to them. Therefore it was not possible to leave my children behind without any help. As I was not on good terms with the first wife, it was not possible for her to let her sons take care of my children. Additionally, the house in which I was married was given to one male child. Therefore, I had to leave with my children and go to my father’s house where I was born.

… I had nowhere to go

My brothers welcomed me home, but with very difficult conditions. They claimed that, they only know me as their sister, but I’m no longer of the same blood with them. I felt terribly bad and angry. But since I had nowhere to go, I stayed with them for only one week, then I left for a nearby town. There I met with a friend of mine whom we last met nine years ago. I managed to arrive at her place by asking several individuals on the way.

Being a grandmother before my time

My friend welcomed me so warmly that I felt as if I was at home. She was living alone due to the fact that she was barren. She was kicked away by husband simply because she didn’t conceive. She was earning a living through selling local brew. Through her help I managed to engage myself in casual labor in farms near the town. My friend helped me also to secure a room where I stayed with my children. During the evening, after my farm work, I joined my friend in selling local brews. I brought up my kids in this kind of situation. I believe the environment we live in contributed very much to the present situation. As a result of this environment, all of my children have been made pregnant by unknown men, without getting married. This is too much for me because I don’t even know fathers of my grandsons. I hear that they were pregnant by married men who cannot marry them. I found myself being a grandmother before my time, and this is only because I didn’t have opportunity to inherit a piece of land.

When I started attending counseling sessions with the World Vision in Kagera, I was very much encouraged. I came to realise that there are a lot of women who were in a situation like mine, but who still struggled to overcome and live on. We are desperate and hopeless simply because the society thinks that we have no right to own the land. Our own future and that of our kids have dashed into a crash and nobody seems to care.

*Zawadi Kaatano was interview by Pelagia Katunzi, Kagera, 2001


Reclaiming our lives: HIV and AIDS, women’s land and property rights and livelihoods in southern and East Africa. Narratives and responses. Edited by Kaori Izumi. Cape Town 2006