Twelve years later: how the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 is failing women in South Africa

Authors Roxanne Juliane Kovacs, Sibongile Ndashe, Jennifer Williams

ISSN: 1996-2088
Affiliations: Reading Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of York. She worked as an intern at the Women’s Legal Centre in 2012; Attorney at the International Centre for the Protection of Human Rights (INTERIGHTS). She was an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre from 2002 until 2007; Director of the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town. She is an admitted attorney and conveyancer
Source: Acta Juridica, 2013, p. 273 – 291


In this contribution we discuss how the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act (RCMA) is failing women. We start by discussing the importance of the recognition of customary marriages and the problems associated with their recognition. We then investigate the challenges presented by s 4 of the RCMA, which stipulates that all customary marriages must be registered within a certain time period. We also examine the role of lobolo and the requirements for entering a customary marriage, which are unclear under the RCMA. Finally, we show that the legislation does not adequately provide for women in polygynous marriages. This contribution is a determined call to amend the RCMA and to re-open the debate on how best to regulate customary marriages.