Marriage is a legal bond between a consenting couple that binds them to live together and have a family.
It is a serious alliance that, in many instances, is blessed in various churches by ministers of religion where each pair vow to tie the knot 'til death do them separate.
But the age-old understanding of this union has taken a dramatic turn this week with the announcement by the Department of Home Affairs that a marriage can be registered by any of the parties without the presence of the other.
All the present spouse needs to do is produce proof that they were married under customary law and, according to the department, an ilobolo receipt is proof enough.
This situation has come to light after Sydwell Mfeka established that he was unknowingly married to a woman whom he claims not to love any more.
Her partner secured a marriage certificate - in his absence - by simply producing a receipt for the ilobola her fiance had paid as a deposit to her family.
The department's assertion that there is nothing wrong with the way this matrimony was conducted has serious implications. It means if one spouse produces an ilobolo document, a union can be legalised by it immediately.
The fact that the document's veracity has not been established seems not to matter.
What has happened to the notion of a marriage of two consenting adults entering into a marriage in person before a priest or marriage officer?
More oddly, the department is happily giving blessings to such marriages, even when the sole spouse is unaccompanied by witnesses. .
The question is, how different is this sort of union from the marriage scams in which illegal foreigners have been using stolen identity documents to marry bona fide South Africans so they can gain full citizenship.
From a glance, there is no difference.
In the light of this, could the department be unwittingly abetting illegal marriages through this apparent flaw in its procedures?
Most interesting is that the authorities are no wiser about whether this could be a loophole in their procedures after all and whether it should be plugged.