Having to process her husband’s death and comfort five children, two their own, while fending off his family’s abuse during this time drove Boniswa “Bonnie” Mzimba to become a lawyer to help other widows in the same situation.
Mzimba, who lost her husband 16 years ago and was a nurse at the time, said her church and workplace also turned against her and, as a result, her idea of a non-profit organisation – now called Powerhouse Development Services (PDS) – to assist neglected widows was born.
After years of research, she found out that widows in South Africa have no voice and are often neglected by society.
As her husband had been a practising attorney, Mzimba realised the need for lawyers who could assist widows.
Mzimba recalled that she and her husband would talk about her studying law one day and practising together.
“It was my way of dealing with the grief.
“All I wanted to do was be a great mom, a good employee and a support for other women going through what I went through. If I wasn’t strong and forward-looking, I wouldn’t have pulled through. I used every word used to abuse me verbally as a stepping stone,” she said.
PDS, which has a network of professionals who pull together to cater for the needs of widows, stands on four pillars: preventative, promotive, curative and rehabilitative.
PDS offers support services from educating widows about their rights to coaching them on the way forward.
This includes how to move on with their lives, how to survive without an additional income, and to resist temptations like alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitution.
The organisation is aimed at raising public awareness about widows and protecting them by advocating for and securing their rights, particularly when it comes to property.
“These women must rise up – we don’t provide handouts. We teach them how to empower themselves so they can put food on the table,” Mzimba said.
Seminars are held quarterly throughout the country, and although PDS focuses on widows, they also aim to empower men, as well as educate widows’ families.
Mzimba, who speaks at conferences, said she made a point of educating and influencing employers about widows in the work place.
PDS has an sms line, Widow on Call, for vulnerable widows who may have been abused via cultural traditions or any other form of abuse. They can send a text with their problem to 072-461-0891, and they will be linked with someone who can assist with their problem.
“Widowhood is a developmental and societal issue and they face acts of abuse and deprivation and are often invisible in society.
“This is what pained me and that is why I launched the NPO.
“These same vulnerable, neglected widows are expected to raise children, the future of the world.
“How do you raise children when you are going through all of that? If we don’t deal with these issues, we are not securing the future of the country,” she said.
Nomfundo Mrara, who lost her husband in September last year, heard about PDS through a nurse whom Mzimba had helped. Mrara said: “When I contacted her, the first thing she did, after praying with me, is organise a lawyer to help me with my husband’s estate.
“In January I got a proper job. She made this journey an easier one.”
Amanda Debese, a volunteer at PDS, has been helping Mzimba, since she started the NPO in 2015.
“When she told me about her idea, the vision, and she asked me to assist her, I couldn’t say no, especially when I saw how responsive the people were.
“She is such a warm person. She listens and relates to the things they are going through.”
Mzimba is the author of three poems: Choose to Rise; I am no Widow and Umbongo Wabahlokazi (Widow’s Poem). She has also recorded a single, Nostalgic Voices: Utata Wabantwana Bam (father of my children).