Ramaphosa Signs Bill Recognizing Muslim Marriages in South Africa


South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into law the Divorce Amendment Bill, which alters the Divorce Act of 1979 to recognize Muslim marriage.

The new legislation is in reaction to an earlier Constitutional Court decision that recognized the need and importance of protecting Muslim women and children from Muslim marriages, particularly when the marriage is dissolved. The court declared two years ago that failing to recognize Muslim weddings violates Muslim women’s dignity.

It was discovered that Muslim women and their children were not offered the legal remedies and protections provided by the Marriage Act.

“The amended legislation addresses shortcomings in the Divorce Act of 1979, which differentiated between people married under the Marriage Act and people married according to Muslim rites, particularly women,” Vincent Magwenya, South African President’s spokesman, said in a statement on Thursday.

Until recently, Muslim couples who desire to marry according to Islamic law can only enjoy the statutory protection of the South African legal system as it applies to civil spouses if they also register a civil marriage.

According to the South African Presidency, President Ramaphosa’s changes define a Muslim marriage in the Divorce Act of 1979. This includes protecting and safeguarding the rights of dependent and underage children of a Muslim marriage; allocation of assets upon dissolution of a Muslim marriage; and forfeiture of patrimonial benefits of a Muslim marriage. In 2014, South Africa’s Women’s Legal Centre launched an application to recognize Muslim marriages.

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