Notes: Splitting hairs? Bwanya v The Master of the High Court
Author: Fatima Osman
Affiliations: Senior Lecturer, Department of Private Law, University of Cape Town
Source: South African Law Journal, Volume 138 Issue 3, p. 521-534
In Bwanya v The Master of the High Court 2021 (1) SA 138 (WCC), the Western Cape High Court ordered that the applicant, a partner in an opposite-sex partnership, was entitled to inherit from her deceased partner’s estate by ordering an amendment of the Intestate Succession Act 81 of 1987 to cater for unmarried opposite-sex partners. The court distinguished the case from Volks NO v Robinson 2005 (5) BCLR 446 (CC) — which precludes an unmarried partner from claiming maintenance from the deceased partner’s estate — on the basis that the case involved an inheritance claim as opposed to maintenance. The note argues that the failure of the court to deal with the central argument in Volks in respect of inheritance rights undermines the strength of the judgment. The Constitutional Court in confirmation proceedings should address this matter, and consider a softening of the doctrine of stare decisis to overrule the Volks case. Furthermore, the case opens the door to claims by other unmarried partners in polygamous relationships. While such claims involve policy considerations that are best addressed by the legislature, they are likely to come before the courts in the near future. Courts should recognise such claims in acknowledgment of the diversity in family formations in South Africa.