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South Africa Debates Muslim Marriages After Spouses of Coronavirus Victims Left Without Support

South Africa Debates Muslim Marriages After Spouses of Coronavirus Victims Left Without Support

South African legislators are debating whether customary Muslim marriages should be given a limited legal recognition under South African law. The issue came on the agenda after numerous Muslim families that suffered deaths due to COVID-19 were left without legal protections or safeguards.

So far, however, the country’s government has no plans in place to officialise Muslim marriages, even for an interim period while a more permanent solution can be found.

Marriage entered in terms of Muslim rites is currently not recognised in South Africa

The topic of the recognition of Muslim marriages in South Africa came to agenda after the sole MP for the al-Jama-ah Party, Ganief Hendricks, posed the question during a Parliamentary session. Hendricks warned that many Muslim couples are married not through official weddings but through Muslim Nikah marriages that are held under Islamic rites. He added that the non-recognition of Muslim marriages has caused trouble for families who lost their members to the COVID-19 outbreak. They have found it difficult to resolve legal issues relating to the deceased’s estate, and it has also become harder for the spouse and children of the deceased to claim benefits.

Hendricks said that such legal issues have occurred before the COVID-19 outbreak, but the scale and emergency since the outbreak has risen significantly.

“It’s an insult to someone married 40 years ago to be told they were never married. The death certificate says never married. How is a wife supposed to feel?”

As a solution, Hendricks asked Home Affairs Minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, to legalise Muslim marriages or, at the very least, offer a temporary recognition to those that have been effected. Responding to Hendricks, Motsoaledi said that the government has no powers to legalise Muslim marriages, adding that the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 provides the relevant template for valid customary marriages and registration. He added that as a result, the government has no plans to amend the law and recognise Nikah, even temporarily.

Marriage has been a recurring legal issue for South African Muslims

Although the matter of Nikah marriages has become a public issue as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, the issue has been a recurring fixture in South African politics. Many Muslims partake in Nikah marriages instead of legally-recognised marriages, as they are unaware that Nikah marriages are not legally-recognised.

Such cases have, at times, resulted in husbands leaving their wives and children without any legal repercussions or obligations for support. There have also been instances where individuals who married through Nikah were given fraudulent documents by officiators, who then proceeded to falsify welfare claims or engage in other scams without the awareness of the couple whose names were used in these crimes.

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