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A high-ranking education official, who tried to get out of giving his adulterous wife half of their assets when he divorced her, had the spotlight firmly on him when a judge told him his abusive behaviour and assaults on his wife could not be condoned.
“Without condoning adultery, I find the defendant’s (the wife’s) adultery did not cause the breakdown of the marriage. She was deeply unhappy in her marriage. She is a sprightly woman… caught in a marriage with an overbearing man who stifled her with his conservative and pious outlook on life,” said Acting Judge Jan Hiemstra in the North Gauteng High Court.
The top official filed for divorce from his wife, but as she had had an adulterous relationship with a family friend, the husband wanted her to forfeit the benefits arising from their marriage in community of property.
The wife, who admitted having an affair, said she was driven into the other man’s arms by her bullying husband and an unhappy 19-year-long marriage.
Granting the divorce, the judge refused to order the forfeiture of her share of the patrimonial benefits arising from the marriage.
In terms of the Divorce Act, the parties may not be named.
Initially the husband, who is also an author and a deeply religious man, claimed damages from his wife’s lover, but that issue was settled out of court.
He told the court his marriage had been “satisfactory” up until about five years ago.
However, his wife, 10 years his junior, said their problems started soon after their marriage. She said he was a controlling man who often assaulted her.
Once he “punished” her for not changing into more modest pants in anticipation of his father’s visit. She refused and was beaten.
On another occasion he instructed her to pack his suitcase, as he had to leave on a business trip the next morning.
The woman was watching the Oprah Winfrey show on TV and told him she would do it after the show
“He regarded this as disobedience and gave her a frightful beating,” said the judge, regarding the assault which left the woman with facial fractures.
She said her husband even urged their child to slap her because she was disobedient.
The husband defended his actions, saying “in his culture a woman had to obey her husband”. He regarded this incident as a normal “marital tiff”.
The wife said there were other instances in which she was also assaulted, but her husband either denied them or said he could not remember. The judge said this made things worse, as it created the impression that the man had assaulted her so often that he could not remember each instance.
The wife also testified that he dictated her clothing and hairstyle, when and how to smile, and where she might or might not go. He even disapproved of her music taste and insisted she listen to gospel music. He once caught her out with a CD cover that indicated “gospel music”, but the disc contained “popular secular music”.
The husband told the judge she was a “satisfactory wife” and an “adequate housekeeper”, and the main reason he wanted a divorce was because she had two-timed him.
“The plaintiff (husband) is a tall, imposing man. He is a devout Christian and expounds adherence to the dictates of his faith and the authority of the church elders. He is also a traditionalist, who adheres to his views of African culture in respect of the relationship between husband and wife, in particular the duty of the wife to obey her husband,” the judge said. He added that the man was an authoritarian who did not tolerate defiance of his authority. The wife had regularly defied him and refused to adhere to his instructions.
A husband’s role as “head of the family” had long been abolished and replaced by the equality provision in the constitution.
The judge said he had to resolve the question of whether the wife’s misconduct outweighed the misconduct of the husband to such an extent that her patrimonial benefits should be forfeited.
While finding in favour of the wife on this, the judge remarked that both parties did not conduct themselves well during their marriage.
The judge concluded that mitigating circumstances for adultery include mental and physical abuse and that it was evident that the woman was abused.