Correctional Services said that “matters are under control” at Johannesburg’s Sun City Prison on Wed.
Lungile Nkosi, 25, fears the Home Affairs department will cost her her home.
Last year they told her she could simply pop in to any Home Affairs office and register a traditional marriage without her partner. Now they have sent her a letter telling her that her marriage certificate is invalid.
Nkosi went to the Home Affairs office in Johannesburg last August, produced a receipt for the ilobolo Sydwell Mfeka had paid and walked out with a marriage certificate. She neglected to tell Mfeka because their relationship had soured and he was no longer interested in her. The furious "groom" screamed blue murder, not least because his new "bride" immediately laid claim to the house they once shared.
Unsympathetic Home Affairs officials told Mfeka that "the marriage stands", though the couple had broken up months earlier without tying the knot.
But, last week Nkosi received a letter from the department telling her that her marriage certificate had been "voided".
"The particulars of the said marriage were entered into the Population Register after the cut-off date as stipulated in the Act: Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, 1998 (Act No 120 of 1998). It is clearly stipulated in the act that customary marriages concluded before 15 November 2000 should be registered in the timeframe of 15 November 2000 up to 14 November 2002. Based on these stipulations your customary marriage was entered into the Population Register and a certificate issued to you by the registering officer, without proper authority.
"This concludes that the registration of your marriage is invalid and the certificate issued to you is a pro non scripto (an invalid document)," the letter said.
The correspondence left Nkosi confused: was her marriage annulled or just the certificate? And what is the meaning of the reference to dates a year before her marriage?
Home Affairs won't say anything. The appalling English and ambiguity apparently left even its spokesman Matshele Tau too confused to comment. He said he could not say anything without seeing the department's report on the matter and the letter.
Mfeka had put down R3000 for Nkosi in 2003, but he claimed that was just a deposit on the ilobolo.
But Home Affairs officials weren't interested: a deposit or full payment meant he had been betrothed, they said. She had moved in with him and therefore Nkosi had been entitled to register a traditional marriage with or without his permission or even his knowledge.
If he didn't like the situation he should sue for divorce, they advised.
The law requires two conditions for a traditional marriage: he must have paid ilobolo and they must have lived together. But it also requires that both parties must agree to be married. Now Nkosi fears she and the couple's four-year-old child might lose the house they live in, which she claimed from him on the basis that they had been married.
"I just need to understand what changed between then and now. One moment I was married, the next the marriage was cancelled," said Nkosi.
Mfeka says he wants to pursue a case of fraud against her.
"What she did was a crime. I don't care what the department said. And that was not the first time that she defrauded me," he said darkly, without further explanation.
Nthabiseng Monareng, an independent family law specialist, said Nkosi had no reason to panic, what she did was not wrong.
"Home Affairs can invalidate her certificate because she did not go through a magistrate to get it but they cannot invalidate her marriage."
"If he paid ilobolo for her and if they stayed together as husband and wife then the marriage stands."
She said Home Affairs could register a marriage if it was reported within three months. Only a magistrate could register it after three months had elapsed since the couple had fulfilled all conditions for a customary marriage.