Is It Time To Amend The Marriage Act?

The events of the last couple of days have badly exposed the law on marriage in Zimbabwe.

If you are unaware, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is being sued by an ex, Locardia Karimatsenga who he married under customary law. He dumped her 12 days later and has now obtained a marriage license to marry other woman, Elizabeth Macheka. Karimatsenga is now seeking maintenance from PM Tsvangirai and she also wants the wedding stopped until the issue is resolved.

Now, there are three types of marriage in Zimbabwe. These are civil, registered customary and unregistered customary union. Civil union supersedes all others.

The law requires that when one enters into a customary union this must be registered. If unregistered it only enjoys limited benefits under the law. We all know of people who are married under customary law but never go and have it registered. In principle they are supposed to be prosecuted but, hey, who is checking right?

Also if one marries under customary law one can have as many wives as they wish but if they get into a civil union they can’t. In addition if one has 10 customary union wives, if he goes on to have a civil union all the other marriages automatically become invalid. They suddenly lose their rights.

That has us asking questions about the weight that is given to the truly Zimbabwean and traditionally recognised marriage format. The fact that one pays lobola in most people’s eyes, one is married. The registration or civil union part of it feels on the whole redundant.

That very little weight is given to the customary unions, general law principles offer little to no protection in the event of the death of a spouse. That means one could walk out with nothing because once there is money involved, we all know of those relatives who pitch up to harvest.

As it stands, it is hard call, because the civil union has many backers. However, there surely must be that can be done to protect those with customary unions.