Women lash out at home affairs after surname changes

2019-07-25 15:06
People wait at the Department of Home Affairs. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

People wait at the Department of Home Affairs. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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A column by Sarah Wild in which she describes her ordeal of having her surname changed without her consent after getting married has sparked an outrage on social media, with many women claiming to have experienced the same problem. 

In her piece, Wild relates how she found out her surname had been changed to that of her husband's when she specifically expressed that she wanted to retain her surname when registering their marriage. 

"When I contacted the Eastern Cape home affairs branch which processed my marriage, the official asked whether I loved my husband. Obviously, I didn't love him if I wanted to keep my name," Wild writes. 

Wild writes she has found more than 200 women who had also had their names changed, despite ticking the box stating that they wanted to keep their birth name.

Home affairs officials also insisted on permission from women's husbands or fathers to retain their surnames, according to Wild. 

Her column drew a massive reaction from women who say they, too, had their surnames changed without their consent or being treated with condescension by home affairs officials when they requested to keep their surnames. 

READ: Home Affairs requires husbands to give women consent to change their names and it's an affront

Candace Holland wrote in an email: "I got married in 2015 and never changed my surname to my husband's surname. I kept my maiden name, Holland. We got divorced this year, 2019. 

"[On Tuesday] I tried opening a Vodacom account and they told me that my name does not match my ID number given - they said my name is Candace Joshua at home affairs, and that I can only sign for my new phone and number when I have proof of ID in the name Candace Joshua. I have nothing in that name - everything is in the name Candace Holland. 

"I don't know what to do now - I need to apply for a new passport and this is all a big mess!"

On News24's Facebook page, many readers echoed Holland's conundrum. 

You don't love your husband

Samantha Reid wrote: "Been there and done that - the experience was humiliating. Was also told I didn't love my husband because I refused to change my surname."

Thea Bester-Swanepoel wrote: "It was a horrible thing for me to go through. To ask my husband, my equal, for permission, was humiliating and against everything I believe [in]. I am not a feminist per se, but even though our Constitution alleges that we are all equal, apparently we are not. At home affairs, the official treated me with disdain; asked if I am too important to take my husband's name and discard my unmarried surname (I requested a double-barrel). She asked me if I don't care how that emasculates my husband. And that was just the start." 

Other women reported that they managed to keep their surnames after marriage without a glitch. 

Section 26(2) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1992, states: "A woman may assume her husband's surname, or revert to her maiden surname or a prior surname she legally bore, and since 1997 a woman may also join her surname with that of her husband's as a double-barrelled surname. No application to the Department of Home Affairs is necessary in these instances."

News24 attempted to get hold of Home Affairs spokesperson David Hlabane over the course of two days. Calls and WhatsApp messages went unanswered. 

Another spokesperson, Siya Qosa, earlier told News24 that the choice of surname following marriage remains that of the person concerned.

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