South Africans can expect new marriage legislation to come into effect by the year 2021 as the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, has been consulting with various stakeholders – including religious groups and leaders – across the country with the intent to enact a new, single consolidated Marriages Act. The envisioned legislation will attempt to encompass the provisions of previous legislation relevant to marriage, such as the Muslim Marriages Bill.
The move toward a consolidated Act encompassing all the relevant legislation to marriages in South Africa comes as national government has recognised the need for updated legislation in the country.
“We want a single statute which doesn’t discriminate against anyone, affords equality to all types of marriages and affords people human dignity when entering into marriage contracts,” said spokesperson for the minister, Siya Qoza.
“At the moment, we’ve got the marriage base-law which is the civil Marriage Act of 1961. Since then, our society has changed tremendously.”
“We are on a journey to change the current marriage regime and we are getting input from people. We have spoken to gender and human rights activists, traditional leaders and religious leaders.”
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC SA)’s Dr Dawood Terblanche, however, says that a one size fits all approach may not be in the best interest of all concerned.
“We do require regulations to govern marriage in general, but it may not be that one statute is required for everyone within South Africa because we are a multicultural and diverse community. A one-shoe-fits-all approach may not be the best,” said Terblanche.
“We, as a Muslim community, believe that there need to be different regulations which speak to different religions. There may be an overarching form of regulation that may govern everyone in South Africa, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty and legal consequences, we do believe that there needs to be room for religious obligations and rights and for those laws to come into play.”
Terblanche indicated that the MJC SA would be working with government in the crafting of legislation to ensure that recognition and protection is afforded to Muslim marriages in South Africa.
“…we believe that our females and children are caught on the wrong side of the law and their rights must be returned,” said Terblanche.
There remain some discrepancies between what the MJC SA states as acceptable and what government regards as such. One example of this is the issue of “underage” marriage, according to western standards and norms.
While Terblanche indicated that – although regulated – there is a degree of “permissibility” for the marriage of legal minors in South Africa, Qoza said that “as a country, we have signed a SADC (Southern African Development Community) protocol on development and committed ourselves to fighting child marriages …One of our priority goals is to ensure that we no longer have child marriages.”
“For the rest of the year we are still looking at consulting different interest groups. The route we took was to consult interest groups and leaders because we believe that they know what people want. At the end of the year we will consolidate all the input,” said Qoza.
Ordinary members of society – as individuals – will also have an opportunity to comment on the draft policy before it’s finalised.
The government hopes to finalise the new legislation by March 2021.