Woman loses her leg in crash after blind date drives drunk, then he forces her to marry him to avoid jail - here's how spousal privilege works in SA

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao
Photo by Nathan Dumlao

The 28-year-old woman woke up in hospital with her right leg already amputated and her left leg severed shattered following the crash in the early hours of 12 October last year.

It happened just hours after Ms Ma, a Chinese woman, went on an arranged date with a suitor only known as Zhang, who reportedly took her car keys and insisted on driving her home in his car despite being intoxicated.

He crashed into traffic barriers in the middle of the road and flipped his car onto its roof.  Both Ma’s legs broke in the process.

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Unfortunately, in order to save her life, she lost a leg to amputation and her remaining leg is being treated for recurring infections.

Zhang paid 90,000 RMB (more than R188 000) towards her initial surgery but she says he is now refusing to foot the bill for further treatment unless she agrees to marry him and settle the matter privately so he can avoid jail time.

He reportedly admitted to local media, “Of course I want her to write a statement forgiving me, otherwise I’m definitely going to jail. My lawyer tells me that, with her statement, I can be remanded on bail pending trial. After that, we can settle any civil disputes between us."

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“My father says that as long as I’m willing to marry her, he’ll treat her as family. We will, of course, then pay her medical bills. But if she chooses to go the legal route, then we have no obligation to contribute anything more.”

Responding to allegations that he insisted on driving Ms Ma home, Mr Zhang said, “She says I forced her into my car. I can neither confirm nor deny that, because I was drunk and don’t remember anything."

Ma told local media, “He wants me to agree to a settlement and pen a statement forgiving him, otherwise he won’t pay any more of my medical bills. He’s saying I have nothing left. My only option is to marry him and let him take care of me. He’s forcing me to marry him. I don’t even like him - how could I marry him?”

County police say they are examining the extent of Ma’s injuries, after which formal charges will be laid against Zhang.

The authorities did not say whether he would be prosecuted separately for allegedly attempting to blackmail his victim.

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Unfortunately, Ma’s predicament may sound familiar for some South African women.

Managing partners of HJW Attorneys Megan Harrington-Johnson and Richard Wands share how the law in South Africa can protect you.

We posed this question to the lawyers: What does the law in South Africa say about spouses testifying against each other in court? Is this ever permitted?

“In terms of section 198 and 199 of the Criminal Procedure Act, spouses are the only category of witnesses deserving of a right to refuse to disclose admissible and relevant evidence in Court. Generally speaking, a spouse cannot be compelled to testify or be forced to disclose information shared or conversations held between the parties during the marriage,” say HJW attorneys. 

“This protection is extended to any conversation or information shared during the marriage and can be invoked even after the annulment or dissolution of the marriage, so long as the information, which is being sought, was shared while the marriage subsisted,” they add.

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However, there are exceptions say the attorneys. These are in terms of section 195 of the Criminal Procedure Act and Section 68 of the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Amendment Act, where a spouse may be called to testify, in relation to the general wellbeing of their children, in relation to, among other examples, sexual exploitation of children and incest.

In South Africa, there is a significant number of traditional marriages and instances of civil unions. The attorneys say the law applies the same in these relationships as well, where the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, as well as the Civil Unions Act (in addition to the Marriage Act) all provide this equal protection.

However, if you find yourself in a circumstance similar to that of Ma and are being blackmailed into getting married it’s best to report to the person attempting to blackmail you to the police.

“Additionally, if the marriage took place as a result of blackmail, the marriage can be annulled for being entered into under fraudulent conditions and is therefore voidable,” say the attorneys.

If a woman is being abused in a marriage would like to report abuse but is not in a safe position to do, as family, friends or neighbours there is something you can do to help.

HJW attorneys say, “Any person may report spousal (or any other) abuse to the South African Police Service. The SAPS may investigate and then, depending on the evidence, a prosecutor may agree, or decline, to prosecute. If the spouse, however, does not want to give evidence, this may hinder the prosecution of the matter.”

Do you think the law protects victims and potential victims of crimes committed by their partners? Share your thoughts with us here.

Additional reporting by: Magazine Features

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