'There was never a marriage' - judge rules in billionaire Douw Steyn's favour after legal bid by ex

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Douw Steyn won the lawsuit against his ex-girlfriend, Donne Botha. Photo: Archive
Douw Steyn won the lawsuit against his ex-girlfriend, Donne Botha. Photo: Archive
  • Billionaire Douw Steyn and Donne Botha, who were together from 2005 to 2009, held an extravagant ceremony in London in 2007 which was the basis of Botha's claim. 
  • In a litigious battle that started in 2014, Botha wanted the courts to order Steyn to pay her R100 000 per month, until his death or remarriage.
  • The court ruled that Botha's case warranted a punitive costs order against her.

The Durban High Court has ruled that billionaire Douw Steyn and his ex-partner Donne Botha were never married after she launched a legal bid for an amount equal to half his estate on the basis of their 2007 "marriage".

In a litigious battle that started in 2014, Botha wanted the courts to order Steyn to pay her R100 000 per month, until his death or remarriage. 

The UK Sunday Times 2021 rich list placed the property mogul's estimated net worth at over R40 billion. 

The genesis of Botha's claim is a 2007 ceremony that the couple held at a London Hotel. According to court papers, invitations were sent out, guests were flown from South Africa and accommodated all at Steyn's expense. 

According to Botha, their marriage was not registered due to short notice as, in fact, two weeks was required to get a license.

"The plaintiff testified that the information she had received from the defendant was that this was a matter of simply the signing of the register when they got back to South Africa as they were both South African citizens. She further told the court after the ceremony in London, the parties had returned to stay together at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg," said Judge Khosi Hadebe in a judgment handed down on Monday. 

The couple continued to travel together until their relationship ended in 2009. 

ALSO READ | Douw Steyn pledges R320m for coronavirus relief

In his defence, Steyn called British solicitor Adrian Christmas to give evidence. Christmas told the court that shortly before what he referred to as a "blessing ceremony", Steyn rang him and told him he was unable to comply with the requirements for a special license, under English law, in time.

Hadebe said: 

What appeared from Mr Christmas's evidence is that the defendant was worried that he had invited so many people to a wedding that was unlikely to happen in the circumstances. Mr Christmas advised the defendant that he could have a ceremony of some sort so as not to disappoint his invitees from the Republic of South Africa.

Christmas also testified that after that, a few months after the ceremony, he was summoned to the pair's home, where they said that they wanted an agreement to cover their cohabiting arrangements since they were not married.

Christmas penned a document that essentially covered Botha getting R1 million should the pair break up.

Steyn's legal team also called Janet Kentridge, an expert in the laws of England, who testified that there was no legal marriage as there was no registrar present and no marriage license was issued. 

In his deposition, Reverend Canon Simon Wilkinson, who presided over the ceremony, said there was deliberately no reference to any marriage, wedding, union, groom or bride during the ceremony. He said that he was not authorised to perform a civil wedding ceremony as a clergyman. This was confirmed by Kentridge in her testimony. 

Hadebe said: 

He insisted that the events planner and the defendant's personal assistant had requested him to do a blessing ceremony. He further said there was no question that a wedding ceremony should or could be conducted. There could have been no wedding ceremony taking place since the parties did not comply with any of the necessary preliminary and peremptory requirements for the solemnisation of a marriage, according to Reverend Wilkinson.

In her judgment, Hadebe said Botha knew there was no marriage between her and Steyn. 

"It is my considered view that the plaintiff has all along known that there is and there never was a marriage existing between her and the defendant. She may not have been schooled in English law as she argued in court, but the explanation given to her by the defendant in that the preparations were not up to scratch so as to lead to the celebration of a marriage, was sufficient for her to understand that the ceremony conducted by Reverend Wilkinson could not be turned into a marriage just by what she allowed herself to believe," said Hadebe. 

Hadebe also said that Botha's case warranted a punitive cost order. 

"I am satisfied that the defendant has made an overwhelming case for the dismissal of the plaintiff's action with costs. He has also succeeded to show the court why such costs should be granted at a punitive scale."

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