Pretoria - A tussle between a mother-in-law and a bride on whether she was legally married to her now deceased husband landed in court.
And when all was said and done, it was the bride who won the battle.
Mandy Ntuli had obtained an order in the high court in KwaZulu-Natal, in which Home Affairs was ordered to register her marriage with Thokozani Khumalo.
His mother Bertina Khumalo, however, asked the court to have that order overturned, maintaining her son was never married to Ntuli.
Ntuli told the court that she and Khumalo started a love relationship in 2015.
Unfortunately, he died in February 2021, just over a year after they had married.
According to her, they never registered the marriage due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
However, she maintained that it was a valid customary marriage and that Home Affairs should be ordered to register it as such.
Ntuli said during March 2020 her husband introduced her to his four children, who were living with him. A few months later he nominated some delegates to negotiate and finalise the payment of lobola with Ntuli’s family.
According to her, the deceased’s emissaries were not from his family; he did not have a good relationship with his family or communicate with them.
An amount for lobola, together with five cows was agreed on. The cash amount was paid on the same date in the presence of the Induna, who signed a letter to the effect.
Ntuli said that after the lobola negotiations, celebrations took place at her father’s home. A sheep was slaughtered and the deceased’s emissaries were given a crate of beer and whisky as gifts. People danced until late in celebration of the union.
The man had also bought a cow which was slaughtered at his home, and the meat was cooked for those who were there when lobola was being negotiated and also for the handover celebrations.
Shortly afterwards she was taken to the deceased’s home by her family and handed over to him in the presence of his emissaries.
After Ntuli was handed over by her family, her late husband performed certain rituals which included the burning of impepho and talking to his ancestors about the customary union. He formally introduced her as his wife to everyone at the celebrations.
After the celebrations, they commenced living together as husband and wife and did so until he passed away, Ntuli said.
She explained that they did not get around to formally registering the marriage with the Department of Home Affairs because of the conditions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, and they wanted to avoid exposure to the risk of contracting the virus.
Unfortunately, Khumalo became sick and succumbed to his illness in February 2021.
Ntuli said that she subsequently arranged his funeral and attended it as his widow.
The mother-in-law, in spite of not attending the wedding, vehemently denied that Ntuli was married to her son. She denied that there was a handing over of the bride ceremony and that lobola was paid in full. She even gained the support of her late husband’s children to say their father was never married to Ntuli.
Confronted with the fact that Ntuli and her son lived together – in the same street as her – the mother-in-law simply denied this.
The allegation that Ntuli attended the deceased’s funeral as his widow was likewise met with a bare denial.
The court said that in the end the only relevant fact in its view was that after the payment of lobola, according to Ntuli’s version, she commenced living with him as husband and wife from December 2020 until his death.
Neither the mother-in-law nor the sons dealt with this crucial aspect where they could easily have done so, Judge E Bezuidenhout said.
He pointed out that a bride was not formally handed over to the bridegroom’s family or to the bridegroom, was in any event not an impediment to a valid customary marriage.
The judge added that by living together as husband and wife, Ntuli and Khumalo had clearly concluded their customary marriage.
This also took into account the evolving nature of customary law and how certain elements were influenced by changing social and economic conditions.
The judge rejected the objections by the mother-in-law and also slapped her with the legal costs.