Customary marriages bill a victory for women

Widow Lerato Sengadi is relieved after the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in her favour
JUSTICE AT LAST: Widow Lerato Sengadi is relieved after the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in her favour

“This victory wasn’t just for me, it was for the millions of women who were emotionally maimed, the millions of black women who have gone through this but couldn’t fight back.”

These were the words, earlier in May, of Lerato Sengadi, widow of the late rapper Jabulani “HHP” Tsambo, after she won her case in the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Sengadi had been locked in a two-year legal dispute with HHP’s family over her status as the rapper’s customary wife.

Then the appeal court ruled in her favour, dismissing an appeal by the Tsambo family against a 2018 high court ruling recognising Sengadi as the lawful wife.

And, indeed, hers was a victory for so many South African women in customary marriages.

This after the Constitutional Court, in 2017, ordered parliament to amend certain parts of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 to give women in customary marriages equal rights to assets and properties.

Now, the Recognition of Customary Marriages Amendment Bill is under consideration by the National Assembly.

Simply put, the amended law will put wealth in the hands of women who had been unfairly discriminated against, according to Old Mutual’s head of financial education, John Manyike.

“In the previous piece of legislation, technically you [women] were like a minor even though you’re married because you could not share in the assets, and it was open to abuse that if your customary-law husband is able to marry a second and third wife, you cannot access marital property,” he said.

University of KwaZulu-Natal cultural expert Sihawu Ngubane said the Recognition of Customary Marriages Amendment Bill would be a breakthrough for women in customary marriages because they would be treated as equal partners.

Sengadi said: “I have seen what happened to me happen to other women, and my mother watched it happen to my grandmother — now she’s watching it happen to me.”

Let us hope that the bill is passed, sooner rather than later, and that this is the last generation of women — no matter their race, religion or ethnicity — who have to fight this battle.

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