nuptial rites

Khanyisile Nkosi

Khanyisile Nkosi

Lindi Zondi*, a young woman from Benoni in Gauteng's East Rand was ecstatic when her boyfriend of seven years popped the big question three years ago.

"Though we had been talking about marriage for a while, when it finally happened it was unexpected. I lay awake all night thinking about it," says Zondi.

Though the mother of two children aged nine and seven months was very happy about the union, she did not realise that in the absence of a prenuptial contract, the marriage was automatically in community of property.

"That blew me away, especially because I had continuously told my husband while we were dating that I did not want to be married in community of property. My lack of knowledge has cost me dearly," Zondi says.

In terms of the Customary Marriage Act of 2000, all marriages entered into after the law came into operation are in community of property.

This means that the husband and wife have an equal share in the assets, money and property - even debts.

If the couple do not wish to marry in community of property, they have to enter into a contract indicating their preference before they get married.

Under the new act, a wife has an equal right and status with her husband to decide what happens to their property and assets in the event of a marriage breaking up.

Says Zondi: "All women should know about these things and understand the implications before they agree to get married.

"I understand that this law was probably meant to protect the rights of women, but in my case I feel it is working against my wishes," says Zondi.

Zondi, who owned property and some movable assets before she was married, says she wanted to protect her assets under her name to secure a future for her son born out of wedlock.

"I wanted to ensure that my son had a home to go back to if anything happened to me," says Zondi.

Annelize Naude, a medical doctor who also works as a social worker at the Family and Marriage Society of South Africa (Famsa) in Knysna, says most women are not aware of their rights and the implications of the law.

"This lack of information leaves most women very vulnerable and in the end they lose everything," she says.

Naude says in Zondi's case there is not much that can be done to reverse the situation.

She says Famsa has introduced preventative programmes to educate women about their rights.

"It is very important that women draw up contracts indicating their preferences before they get into any form of marriage," Naude says.

In the event of a marriage breakdown, she advises women to get counselling and legal advice before they do anything.

In terms of customary law, the husband can still have more than one wife. But to ensure that the first wife's interest is protected, the husband must enter into a written contract stating how the property would be divided among all his wives. The contract has to be approved in court.

The law does not prevent couples married under customary law to enter into a civil marriage as long as the husband does not have other wives.

*Not her real name