File photo: REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate.
Johannesburg - A fraudulent marriage of 18 years to a Nigerian man 13 years her junior has left Sylvia Moloi with chronic and debilitating health problems.

For four times a day, Moloi has to undergo dialysis treatment for her failing kidneys and take medicine for high blood pressure.

Moloi is one of more than a dozen women that the Wits Law Centre is helping fight the Department of Home Affairs, demanding that their fraudulent marriages be expunged.

The centre plans to haul the department to court for allegedly dragging its feet in assisting women like Moloi.

The Soweto woman and Nigerian Ndenge Atamja’s marriage was registered in 2001 without her knowledge.

“I was looking for a job, and a lady I know took me to a shoe shop on Diagonal Street in Joburg. When we got there, the Nigerian owner of the store told me he wanted to hire me, but he lived in Cape Town,” Moloi said.

The man, whose name she doesn’t recall, said Moloi would be in charge of the store and he would visit once a month. 

“He said for him to trust me, I had to fill in forms with my contact details and all my information so that if I ran (away) with his money it would be easy to find me,” she said.

Filling in that form, Moloi added, was her biggest mistake, which had ruined her life. 

“A few years later when I wanted to apply for a new ID and open a savings account for my son, I was told I was married to this man. I have never met him and I don’t know him.

“What surprised me is that he uses my surname. So I married him and he is Mr Moloi. I believe his life is going forward while I am stuck. I can’t find a job, I can’t have a life policy or even get ownership of my parents’ house because of this marriage.”

Professor Philippa Kruger, from the Family, Gender and Child Unit at the Wits Law Clinic, said: “This is foreigners trying to get citizenship in South Africa, and this is how they defeat the laws of the country at the cost of our clients.”

Department of Home Affairs spokesperson David Hlabane said that since April last year, 2132 cases of fraudulent marriages had been recorded.

He said that of these, 1160 were expunged, 646 were referred to court and 326 were still being processed. Currently, there was no penalty for fraudulently marrying someone, he said.

Kruger said the women’s right to dignity had been infringed upon. “If they have children, the children cannot bear the names of their natural parents.”

Kruger said that in some cases, the women were left in serious debt incurred by their fake husbands.

Women like Elize O’Brien haven’t only been unable to find jobs but their children were also unable to access child support grants.

O’Brien was married off to Egyptian Khaled Elshahhat Aly. She discovered this when she wanted to change her daughter’s surname in 2006. 

“What surprises me about my marriage certificate is that it has all my details correctly but it does not have his ID or passport number. So how is that legal?”

“Home Affairs have said it is fraudulent but they still give me the runaround when I want this marriage cancelled,” O’Brien said.

When she gave birth to her son seven years ago, the department wanted to register the child under Aly’s surname. 

“It took a long time to get my son registered, because why should he have a stranger’s surname? I ended up registering my son under his father’s surname. My life is a waste. I have been married to this person for 13 years. My partner has wanted to marry me but how can he do that when I am married to some stranger? This obstacle is killing my life,” O’Brien said.

The Star