n South African Journal on Human Rights - New families, new property, new laws : the practical effects of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act

Volume 20, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0258-7203



This article discusses the implementation of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998 with regard to the personal and property rights of married women. I argue that in traditional customary law women did not 'own' capital assets, namely, the land and cattle; they were the preserve of men. I point out that the new version of the 'official customary law' further reduced their inadequate legal capacity by relegating them to the status of minors. Although the Act seeks to redress this situation, the results of the study on which this article is based indicate that women in customary marriages still perceive themselves as minors and incapable of owning property. Furthermore, I show that the portable nature of the husband's wage, 'the new property' and the financial competition posed by 'a new family' make the implementation of 'the new law' problematic for rural women. Given the real lives of these women, the equality of status between husbands and wives and the community of property envisioned by the Act is likely to remain an illusion rather than becoming a reality.

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