Life without their hubbies

Khethiwe Dlamini, founder and chairman of Widowed Women of South Africa (Wwosa), never imagined she would become a widow in her early 40s.

Khethiwe Dlamini, founder and chairman of Widowed Women of South Africa (Wwosa), never imagined she would become a widow in her early 40s.

Having been happily married to her advocate husband Peter for 18 years, Dlamini got the shock of her life when he died in a car crash in 1996. Life became almost unbearable for her and her two children.

"I always thought we would grow old together but God took him away from us earlier than we had expected," Dlamini says.

"His untimely death was a blow to us. It was even more difficult for me since I suddenly had to learn to cope with life without a man who had been my soulmate for years.

"Dealing with his death was a painful process because I suddenly had to assume the role of both a father and mother to our children, and raise them on a single income."

Dlamini, a teacher, said her worst experience was the bad treatment she received from her in-laws and the community shortly after her husband's death.

"I learnt the hard way that people treat widows differently," she recalls. "Everything changed after my husband passed away. I lost friends because some married women regard widows as threats to their marriages. I also had to deal with my in-laws' unkind remarks."

Dlamini says her husband, who had just been admitted as an advocate, was in the process of opening his own practice when he died.

"That brought a huge financial burden since there was no other income anymore," she says.

Dlamini soon learnt that her difficulties were not unique to her - most widows experience the same trauma.

In 2005 she and a group of other widows from her church established Wwosa, a self-help organisation that offers comfort, friendship and a listening ear to widows. The organisation has since signed up 5000 widows.

"We have all gone through the same devastating experiences, and this forum has helped us cope with the situation."

The organisation, which is based in KwaZulu-Natal, has brought some relief to most widowed women whose families were poverty-stricken.

"Most of the women come from the rural areas and their husbands were the sole breadwinners. We have started various projects, such as sewing, chicken farming and food gardens, to help our members put food on the table."

But a lack of resources such as land, office equipment and proper training has put a strain to the women's efforts to better their lives.

"Our plan is to establish a multi-purpose centre to equip women and orphans with muchneeded survival skills," she says.

"Our women are exploited and ignored, it's even worse when they are still in mourning.

"For instance, traditional authorities do not listen to cases brought forward by women who are still in mourning. We believe that should change.

"Widows end up losing a lot because of such discrimination. Some have even lost their homes."

Her organisation has called on the government to consider providing grants for widows.

The women's cries have not gone unnoticed. This week ANC president Jacob Zuma and KwaZulu-Natal MEC for social development Meshack Radebe each donated R50000 out of their own pockets to ease the women's plight.

The Umhlathuze ward and BHP Billiton also donated R60000 and R100000 respectively.

The money, Dlamini says, will be used to buy equipment needed for their projects.