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What is Traditional & Customary Marriage in South Africa?

Before the establishment of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998 (RCMA), there had been many debates about the inequality regarding women in a customary marriage.

What is a customary marriage?

In South Africa, a customary marriage is a marriage that is entered into in accordance with the traditions and customs of indigenous African customary law. 

While a civil marriage has to be monogamous in order to be valid, polygamy is permissible in customary marriages.
A customary marriage does not only include two people, but it may extend to their respective families. Thus, a marriage in terms of the customary law is seen as a familial matter which does not require an officiator in order to be regarded as valid.

Customary marriages in the past

In the past, women who entered into customary marriages were seen as minors, and thus had a lower status than their husband.

For example, in rural areas, women were not allowed to sell livestock without the consent of their husbands.

Customary marriages today

The Age of Majority Act states that upon reaching the age of 21 years a woman becomes a major. A woman also becomes a major when she enters into a civil or customary marriage.

This Act aims to remove the inequality to some extent, as it gives the husband and wife an equal status. However, this knowledge is only useful to those who are aware of it, as the law and its amendments have not been publicised.

Also read: Customary Marriage in South Africa & the Division of Joint Estate

Van Deventer and Van Deventer Incorporated

For more information on customary marriages and dealing with the complexities and contradictions the legislation has created, contact Van Deventer and Van Deventer Incorporated. Our attorneys in Johannesburg provide expert legal advice and can assist with all matters relating to marriage and matrimonial property.