Domestic Case Law

Nxumalo v. Ndlovu Supreme Court (2011)

Divorce and dissolution of marriage, Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The executor of the estate of a deceased man (the appellant) brought an application to the High Court for a declaration that the civil marriage to the respondent was bigamous and invalid because of a number of pre-existing customary marriages between the deceased and three other women. The deceased considered the marriages over when the women left him and never returned. The deceased had executed a will and later four codicils. The High Court found that the respondent’s civil law marriage was a lawful marriage in community of property, and the will was declared null and void. The appeal is of the order of the High Court. The Supreme Court heard testimony from one of the wives married to the deceased under customary law and from experts in Swazi law and custom relating to the dissolution of customary marriages. The Supreme Court found in favour of the appellant. The decision of the High Court was set aside and the Master of the High Court was to appoint a suitable and proper person to administer the deceased estate. This case is important as it illustrates the importance and status of Swazi law.

Rex v. Simelane High Court (2017)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The accused was charged with rape of his seven-year-old granddaughter between the months of August to October 2008. The prosecution alleged that the accused did intentionally have unlawful sexual intercourse with a female seven-year-old minor who is incapable of consenting to sexual intercourse. The complainant, her brother who was sharing a bedroom with her during the rapes, the complainant’s aunt who the complainant first told of the rapes, a neighbor who had been told of the accused’s actions by his wife, the doctor who examined the complainant, and the constable all testified for the prosecution. The accused denied the charges and argued that all of the witnesses were lying, specifically that the children had been coached by the police. The Court discussed the elements that the Crown must prove in order for the accused to be found guilty of rape, namely (1) the accused must be identified; (2) there must be sexual intercourse; and (3) there must be lack of consent by the complainant. The accused was found guilty of rape. In sentencing, the Court found that the Crown proved that there were aggravating factors under Section 185(bis) of the Criminal Evidence Act (1938), namely, (1) the victim was a minor of a tender age; (2) the accused sexually assaulted the victim on more than one occasion; and (3) the accused stood in locus parentis to the victim and this abused the relationship of trust. The Court found the witnesses credible and found the accused guilty as charged.

Dlamini v. The Quadro Trust & 8 Others Supreme Court (2016)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

The appellant sought to set aside a lower court’s decision and remove his deceased paternal grandmother’s estate executors. The lower court found that the appellant had no locus standi to bring forth the application as he was not the lawful beneficiary of his grandmother’s estate—he was born out of wedlock and his father predeceased his now deceased paternal grandmother. Therefore, the appellant had no right of inheritance intestate. The Supreme Court found that Section 31 of the Constitution (the abolition of the common law status of illegitimacy of a person born out of wedlock) abolishes the principle that children cannot inherit from their father. The Court upheld the appeal and found that the applicant had locus standi to institute or defend legal proceedings relating the deceased estate.

Stapley v. Dobson High Court (2008)

Gender discrimination

This is a child custody case involving a father (the applicant) seeking custody of his minor child because the child’s biological mother, the respondent, sought to take the child to Sri Lanka without the applicant’s permission. The applicant and respondent were never legally married and the respondent had custody of the child. The Court found that Section 31 of the Constitution abolishes the status of illegitimacy of children but that Section 31 is silent on the status of the father of a child born out of wedlock. The Court held that until Parliament enacts the necessary laws under Section 29(7) of the Constitution (which specifically provides for the enactment of laws by Parliament to ensure children’s rights) the legal effects flowing from the fact that the child was born out of wedlock apply and the Court cannot grant guardianship of the minor child to the applicant. Section 31 of the Constitution relates, in part to the rights of children born out of wedlock to inherit from their father. The Court was satisfied that the mother showed careful preparation in her decision to move to Sri Lanka for better career opportunities. The application failed.

Mabuza v. Shongwe Supreme Court of Appeal of Swaziland (2006)

Gender discrimination, Harmful traditional practices

The appellant was the maternal grandfather of two minor children (the subject of the application). The appellant was appealing a decision of the trial court which ordered that the children be placed the custody of their biological father (the respondent). The children stayed with the appellant for a period of time while the respondent pursued his education in South Africa. Upon the respondent’s return, he fetched the children from the applicant’s residence. One of the appellant’s arguments was that because the marriage between the appellant’s deceased daughter and the respondent was invalid under Swazi law, the custody of the children should be with the maternal family (in accordance with Swazi law and custom). The Court stated that Section 29(4) of the Constitution removes the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children as it states that children whether born in or out of wedlock shall enjoy the same protection and rights. The Court found that the most important considerations were the welfare, interests and happiness of the children. The Court found that no evidence was adduced to prove that the respondent was not fit to have custody over the children and the appeal was dismissed.

Rex v. Shongwe High Court (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The 54-year-old accused pleaded guilty to culpable homicide based on allegations that she unlawfully poured boiling water on her husband. He refused to seek medical attention for his injuries because he was embarrassed and he died six days later. The Court ordered a suspended sentence because the accused “had been and was being” viciously attacked by her husband and was escaping his attack. The Court based its judgment on a finding that there was a combination of extenuating factors present, including that the accused suffered from battered wife syndrome, the needs of the six remaining minor children for whom the accused is the sole caretaker and provider, that the accused had already served two years imprisonment before she was released on bail, and the deceased’s refusal to go to the hospital for treatment for fear of being ridiculed by other men.

Zimele Samson Magagula v. Rex Supreme Court of Swaziland (2012)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

Appellant appealed his conviction of rape of a 4 year-old girl on the ground that the victim was the sole witness and her young age made her unreliable. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, finding that the victim’s consistent testimony of the rape and corroborating evidence from a medical examination was sufficient to uphold the verdict.

Mandla Mlondlozi Mendlula v. Rex Supreme Court of Swaziland (2013)

Femicide, Gender-based violence in general

Appellant was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. Appellant appealed that the sentence was too harsh and severe and that it induced a sense of shock. Appellant presented mitigating factors that he was married with four minor children to support, the sole breadwinner, a first offender, and deserved to be given a second chance in life. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal after considering the interest of society, the seriousness of the offense, the fact that the crime was premeditated, and the fact that the killing was gruesome and brutal. The Supreme Court further stated that sentence was fair “particularly in the upsurge in the killing of women as well as the need to impose deterrent sentences which would provide the safeguard against this onslaught.”

Somiso Mbhamali v. Rex Supreme Court of Swaziland (2013)

Femicide, Gender-based violence in general

Appellant was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for the murder of his elderly aunt and appealed for 10 years of his sentence to be suspended because the appellant believed the victim was a witch and could kill him with the power of witchcraft. The Supreme Court upheld the original sentence and held that a perpetrator’s belief in witchcraft is not a mitigating factor when computing an appropriate sentence for murder. While a genuine belief in witchcraft could be treated as an extenuating circumstance in certain instances, murder committed because of a belief in witchcraft would not be mitigated by the belief.

Attorney General v. Aphane Supreme Court of Swaziland (2010)

Gender discrimination, Property and inheritance rights

Wife and husband married in community of property, where all property of either spouse is combined in a joint estate regardless of whether it was acquired before or during the marriage and regardless of how much each spouse contributed. Despite marrying in community of property, the couple was not permitted to register newly purchased land in both of their names because the wife had continued to use her maiden name. Section 16(3) of the Deeds Registry Act only permitted land to be registered by the husband and wife if the wife used her husband’s name; otherwise, the Act permits the land to be registered in the name of the husband only. Because the Section 16(3) of the Deeds Registry Act only affected the rights of wives and not husbands, the Supreme Court held that is invalid as it amounts to unfair discrimination and a violation of Section 20 and 28 of the Constitution.

Bheki Amos Mkhaliphi v. Rex High Court of Swaziland (2013)

Gender-based violence in general

Appellant convicted of murdering a woman and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment. Appellant appealed the verdict and sentence, claiming that he did not possess the requisite intent to kill and mitigating circumstances that he was 35-years old, a first offender, gainfully employed and a breadwinner supporting two children should reduce his sentence. The High Court dismissed his appeal finding that the stab wounds to the victim demonstrated intent to kill and that the mitigating circumstances were properly weighed when the sentence was determined. The Court further stated, “Violence against women is a matter of great concern to the community at large and sentences imposed on perpetrators should reflect its rightful indignation at such crimes.”

Mbuso Blue Khumalo v. Rex Supreme Court of Swaziland (2012)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

Appellant was convicted of rape with aggravating factors and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. The appellant appealed the conviction and sentence arguing that a rape was impossible in part because the victim was his girlfriend. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and increased the sentence to 18 years imprisonment after considering the violent nature of the rape. The Supreme Court stated that a woman’s consent “must be real and given prior to the sexual intercourse” and the Court no longer recognized irrevocable consent, where consent is presumed merely because the victim is the girlfriend or wife of the perpetrator.

Attorney General v. Titselo Dzadze Ndzimandze (Nee Hlophe) and Others Supreme Court of Swaziland (2014)

Property and inheritance rights

The Attorney General appealed the High Court’s ruling that section 2(3) of the Intestate Succession Act is unconstitutional. Under section 2 (3) of the Intestate Succession Act of 1953, a surviving wife is limited to a child’s share or E1200 (equivalent to U.S. $109.37), whichever is greater, of the estate. In contrast, section 34 (1) of the Constitution, entitles a surviving spouse to a “reasonable provision” of the estate, which could exceed Intestate Succession Act’s limitation. The Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s ruling, finding that the Act was overtaken by the Constitution in 2005. The Supreme Court noted that section 34 (1) of the Constitution was deliberately drafted to be gender neutral to ensure that husbands and wives were afforded the same rights and protections to remedy gender-specific limitations like those present in the Intestate Success Act.

Nombuyiselo Siholongonyane v. Mholi Joseph Sihlongonyane High Court of Swaziland (2013)

Gender discrimination

Husband challenged his wife’s capacity to initiate legal proceedings without his consent. The common law permitted a married woman to sue without the consent of her husband only if the woman attained approval from the court first. The High Court held that this common law requirement was unfair discrimination because it applied only to women and not to men, a violation of Sections 20 and 28 of the Constitution, which respectively state that “all persons are equal before and under the law” and that “women have the right to equal treatment with men.”

R v. Mkhatshwa Supreme Court of Swaziland (2007)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant was convicted of raping his 12 year old daughter and sentenced to 22 years imprisonment. The Court upheld the sentence in light of the heinous nature of rape as a crime and the importance of society sending a message of severe condemnation of the crime.

Rex v. Mfanzile Mkhwanazi High Court of Swaziland (2003)

Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The accused was charged on two counts of rape of a 14 year old girl and of an 11 year old girl. The Court noted that in cases where the complainants are young and may be prone to flights of imagination leading to false accusations, the accusations should only be doubted in so far as the child's capacity for recollection and observation seem questionable. In this case, the children were found to be trustworthy and the accused convicted of both counts.