I’m marrying into the Ndebele Custom – What can I expect | Martin Vermaak Attorneys

Im marrying Into The Ndebele Custom What Can I expect

Once upon a time, not to long ago, in Johannesburg South Africa there lived a Ndebele man, Ndumiso, who fell in love with a beautiful western girl, Amelia.  After a whirlwind romance, the two of them decided that it was time to get married. They however had one problem… Amelia wanted to get civilly married in a traditional white wedding, whilst Ndumiso wanted to be married according to his beloved Ndebele custom (a so-called customary marriage). After much debate, the two of them decided to have both.

A few months passed and as the initial excitement of the engagement started to fade, Amelia quickly realised that she did not know how to get married in accordance with the traditional Ndebele way.  A sudden shock of fear crept up on her.  Will she be able to do and understand the traditions?  What if the traditions are not done correctly, will she still be married?  She hastily ran to Google for answers; unfortunately to her dismay, she was left with only more questions.

Customary Marriages in South Africa:

It is said that Parties conclude a customary marriage when they get married in accordance with the traditions and customs of indigenous African law. Certain requirements (as explained below) must be complied with for these customary marriages to be valid and are the same in all ethnic groups in South Africa.  This was confirmed in a field study by Himonga and Moore in their book, Reform of Customary Marriage, Divorce and Succession in South Africa (2015) 82-83. 

It is important to note that any customary marriage negotiated after 15 November 2000 must comply with the requirements for a valid customary marriage as stated in section 3(1) of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998. These requirements are that:

1           both parties should be 18 years at the time of marriage (section 3(1)(a)(i));

2           both parties must agree to be married to each other in terms of customary law (section 3(1)(a)(ii)); and

3           the marriage must be negotiated and celebrated or entered into in accordance with customary law (section 3(1)(b)).

As the scope of section 3(1)(b is very wide and mostly unregulated, the courts had to further identify requirements for a valid customary marriage in terms of living customary law.  These requirements are –

1          consent of the guardians of the bride and groom;

2          lobolo agreement; and

3          integration of the bride into the husband’s family.

This means that the Parties who wants to enter into a customary marriage should further adhere to these three requirements in order for the marriage to be valid.   This was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Moropane v Southon [2014] JOL 32177 (SCA).

Ndebele Customs in South Africa:

Taking the above into account and specifically applying it to the Ndebele Custom in South Africa, Amelia and Ndumiso will have to do the following traditions for their marriage to be valid:

Consent from the Guardians of the Bride and Groom:

Consent from the Parties’ guardians is always needed when the Parties are under the age of 18.  That, however, does not mean that the family is not involved if the Parties are older.  This is especially true as a customary marriage does not merely create a bond between two individuals but also between their two respective families. It is thus vital to understand that, without family participation, there cannot be a valid customary marriage.

Lobolo Agreement:

Lobolo can be defined as the practice of paying a bride price before marrying someone.  It initially took form as a payment of cattle.  Under the Ndebele custom the lobolo usually consists of 16 cattle or nowadays the equivalent of that in money. It can also consist of part cattle and part money.  However, in Matsoaso v Roro [2011] 2 All SA 324 (GSJ) par [18] the court found that "…the mere fact that lobolo was handed over to the applicant's family, significant as it is, is not conclusive proof of the existence of a valid customary marriage."  Thus, this means that Lobolo is seen as only one of the requested requirements, and not as the only one. 

Integration handing over of the bride into the husband’s family:

The last requirement is that of integrating the bride into the husband’s family and as stated above is a fundamental requirement for a valid customary marriage. The aim of this ceremony is to introduce the wife to the ancestral spirits of the husband’s family so that she may be recognised as part thereof. During this handing over the wife breaks her ties with her family and creates new ties with her husband’s family and as such, without the integration of the bride into the husband's family, there cannot be a valid customary marriage.

According to Matsoaso v Roro par [18] the Court found that "[o]ne of the crucial elements of a customary marriage is the handing over of the bride by her family to her new family namely that of the groom."

The SCA went further in Moropane v Southon par [40] stating that: "Importantly, the two experts agreed that the handing over of the makoti to her in-laws is the most crucial part of a customary marriage. This is so as it is through this symbolic customary practice that the makoti is finally welcomed and integrated into the groom's family which henceforth becomes her new family".

In par [22] of Fanti v Boto 2008 (5) SA 405 (C) it was recorded that: "All authorities are in agreement that a valid customary marriage only comes about when there has been formally transferred or handed over to her husband or his family. Once that is done severance of ties between her and her family occurs. Her acceptance by the groom's family and her incorporation into his family are ordinarily accompanied by well-known extensive rituals and ceremonies involving both families."

The integration of the bride usually coincides with a social gathering such as a celebration. The husband, his wife and both families get together to celebrate the unity between the two Parties. The celebration is also usually a community event, where neighbours join in the festivities.  Lots of photograph are taken and a feast is enjoyed.

When it comes to the Ndebele custom, our Courts have specifically recognised certain rituals which are conducted over several days that constitutes a valid customary marriage. A summary of these rituals are as follows:

  • The festivities start with a beer drinking ceremony, where the bride to be is introduced to the husband’s ancestors at their family home.
  • The following day, the bride will spend a lengthy time with the married women of the husband’s clan.  During this meeting they will instruct and advise her on how to act as a wife in their specific family. (This is called Kuyayeyezelwa).
  • The next day (which is usually a Friday) a secret ceremony is conducted where only the bride and people of the family who have already been to similar ceremony are present. A goat is then slaughtered to celebrate the union (This is called Umyanya Wamaskokana).
  • Thereafter the bride is returned to her family where a big celebration takes place. During this celebration another beast is slaughtered, and the meat is divided between the families according to tradition.
  • After the ceremony the bride will, at some point, return to the husband’s family. This can be immediately or several weeks later when she is called by the husband’s family.
  • The bride is furthermore also required to work for an extended period, usually a week, in her future mother-in-law’s house so that the ancestors may see her around the house and know who she is. This can happen prior to her return to her parent’s home or after the family has collected her for the final time.

 

Conclusion:

Amelia need not fear in her circumstances.  Getting married in terms of the Ndebele custom might seem overwhelming, but she will be fine.  She will be advised and accompanied by Ndumiso’s family during the whole process.  An African traditional wedding is very much a family affair.

 

Roüa Pienaar

Candidate Attorney