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Title deeds: Who really owns it

There is a misconception among many people that the terms “ownership” and “possession” are interchangeable. Many a time women are left devastated and stranded after they discover that the house they have raised their family in never quite belonged to them; that in fact, it has always been the bank’s property.

Even in death, the debts incurred by their partners over these properties do not vanish but, like the ghost of disorganised spouse, they remain pending and making their presence known.

After decorating and personalising the house, these people discover that there is a mortgage over the house and the bank has rights to seize that house which was surrendered as security for a loan – often unbeknownst to them.

The legal definition of ownership may be summarised as “the exclusive right over a thing carrying with it the exclusive right to use and control of that thing”.

Possession, on the other hand, entails that while you may have control and use of that thing, you are not the rightful owner and that the owner if they so please or if the contract lapses may relieve you of that right to possess that property.

The shelf-life of possession is much more fragile because all the decisions affecting that property are ultimately under the control of another.

A physical example may be that one woman owns a few cows and leaves them in another woman’s kraal for a certain amount of time. They allow the second woman the right to milk these cows but not slaughter the cows for meat.

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