Non-Registration of Customary Marriages: A Nightmare For Women in S.A

Non-Registration of Customary Marriages: A Nightmare For Women in S.A.

Date: 09 June 2023

By Lesego Mogomotsi

The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998 in South Africa regulates customary marriages and Its objectives are to inter alia:

  • to make provision for the recognition of customary marriages;
  • to specify the requirements for a valid customary marriage;
  • to regulate the registration of customary marriages;
  • to provide for the equal status and capacity of spouses in customary marriages;
  • to regulate the proprietary consequences of customary marriages and the capacity of spouses of such marriages;


It is required that customary marriages must be registered with the Department of Home Affairs within three months from the date the marriage was concluded. Registering a customary marriage in South Africa is important for several reason, such as claiming pension monies, inheritance , ascertaining property rights .


It is undisputed that non-registration of a customary law does not affect the validity of the customary marriages. The Commission for Gender Equality has however observed in recent years that most complainants often do not have evidence to prove the existence of their customary marriage. This is often caused by irretrievably breakdown of relationships between the complainants and the in-laws, especially if the customary spouse passes on. Often, the in-laws submit that they do not know the customary wife. This results in most women spending a lot of funds in order to prove the existence of a customary marriage. This prejudices a lot of women especially those without means.  Faced with household responsibilities and the loss of a spouse, adding financial burden to the prove an existence of a customary marriage can become a nightmare for most women.


It is therefore important to register customary marriages earlier, in order to avoid lengthy litigation before courts should the marriage dissolve due to divorce or death, in the future.


The Minister of Home Affairs has therefore extended the registration period to 30 June 2024 to cater for those whose marriages that were not registered within three months. To Register, people need to bring proof of Lobola negotiations or a letter and an affidavit from people getting married and their witnesses, indicating that a marriage was entered into or celebrated.


Lesego Mogomotsi is a Legal Administrator at the CGE