Man tries to convince court there’s no marriage despite R90 000 ring

2014-06-15 15:00

A Pedi man who has tried to back out of his traditional marriage has been resolutely smacked down by five judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Robert Mpahlele* claimed he was merely living with Mary Mamabolo*, despite the fact that he bought the bride a wedding ring worth more than R90?000.

In a judgment delivered last week, the court ruled a valid customary (traditional) marriage had indeed been concluded, preventing Mpahlele from claiming he had no financial obligations towards Mamabolo.

The court noted that Mpahlele and his brother, who both testified there had been no customary marriage, had “serious difficulties” when confronted by photographs of the wedding ceremony and other evidence that showed there had been a marriage.

This evidence included:

»The R6?000 paid to the bride’s family as lobola;

»A wedding ring worth R91?850;

»Photographs of the wedding celebration;

»The fact that he described her as his customary law wife in an application for membership to the Johannesburg Country Club; and

»The fact that he was shown on a DVD at the “lavish” 50th birthday party he threw for Mamabolo, during which he refers to her as his customary law wife.

The court ruled that another “telling blow” to Mpahlele’s version was that he referred to “my darling wife”, “my lovely wife” and “our wedding ring” in a letter.

“To my mind, this is the proverbial nail in the appellant’s coffin,” Judge Lebotsang Bosielo wrote in the court’s unanimous judgment.

Unsurprisingly, the court ruled a valid customary marriage had been concluded between the two. Customary marriages in South Africa are governed by the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act.

The act requires only that prospective spouses be older than 18, that they must both consent to be married under customary law and that the marriage be negotiated and entered into or celebrated in accordance with customary law.

What was disputed by Mpahlele in the case was the last requirement.

An expert witness who testified for Mamabolo about traditional Pedi customary marriages conceded that the position in urban areas was different as people there are a “sort of cosmopolitan type of African people”.

But another expert, who testified on behalf of Mpahlele, said that “traditional customary practises have evolved over time as Africans left rural villages and migrated to urban areas and became exposed to other cultures”.

The court, however, said: “Importantly, the two experts agreed that the handing over of the makoti [bride] to her in-laws was the most important part of the ceremony.”

The court did not in any way agree with Mpahlele’s argument that the R6?000 he paid was to “ring fence” Mamabolo for him and that this money was to open negotiations for lobola.

“[Mpahlele’s] version that [the payment of R6?000] was a mere token to open negotiations is discredited by the combined version of the two experts to the effect that only a nominal amount is normally paid.”

The court also did not buy Mpahlele’s story that Mamabolo had not been brought to his home as part of the custom, but that her aunt had merely come to drop another family member off in the area.

The order declaring that the two were married sets a precedent in that it was argued and decided as part and parcel of the divorce proceedings.

The court affirmed South Africa’s developing jurisprudence on customary marriage, which seeks to place African customary marriage “on the same pedestal as civil marriages”.

*?Names have been changed because City Press is not legally allowed to disclose parties in a divorce matter

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