Gumede v. President of the Republic of South Africa & Others

Mrs. and Mr. Gumede, both domiciled in KwaZulu-Natal, entered into a monogamous customary marriage in 1968 and four children were born during their marriage.  Because she was forbidden by her husband to take up employment, Mrs. Gumede never worked and could not contribute to the accumulation of the family’s estate, which included two family homes.  She was always the primary caregiver of the children.  After forty years, the marriage broke down irretrievably.  Mrs. Gumede had no family and was dependent for financial support upon her children and her old-age pension.  In 2003, Mr. Gumede instituted divorce proceedings before the Divorce Court.  Mrs. Gumede also approached the High Court and obtained an order invalidating the discriminatory legislative provisions on which the Divorce Court could rely.  The Constitutional Court subsequently was approached by the Minister of Home Affairs and the KwaZulu-Natal Member of the Executive Council for Traditional Leaders and Local Government Affairs who resisted the order, for the reevaluation of the order of the High Court declaring constitutionally invalid certain sections of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, of the KwaZulu Act on the Code of Zulu Law 16 of 1985 and certain sections of the Natal Code of Zulu Law (Proc R155 of 1987), which regulate the proprietary consequences of customary marriages.  In a lengthy judgment, the Constitutional Court took great pains to explain that any distinction between the consequences of customary marriages entered into before and after the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act came into operation is discriminatory, inconsistent with the Constitution, and invalid.  The Constitutional Court noted the international instruments that South Africa has ratified that prohibit forms of discrimination against women, including CEDAW.  It held that the two provisions are patently discriminatory, unfair, and not justifiable.  In terms of the judgment, all monogamous customary marriages entered into before the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act came into operation are now ipso facto in community of property, excluding customary marriages which had been terminated by death or by divorce before the date of the judgment.  The Constitutional Court further held that the constitutional invalidity of Section 7(1) was limited to monogamous marriages and should not concern polygynous relationships or their proprietary consequences, determining that polygynous marriages should continue to be “regulated by customary law until parliament intervenes.”

Geographical location 

Year 

2008

Jurisdiction 

Avon Center work product