05 December 2013
The Women's Legal Centre welcomes the judgement handed down today by the Constitutional Court – where the Minister of Communications' application to extend the time given to amend the post office act was dismissed.
Phumla Ngewu, a WLC client, was married until July 2007 to Mawethu Ngewu, who is employed by the Post Office and is a member of its retirement fund. In terms of the divorce order, Phumla Ngewu was entitled to half of her husband's pension fund when she got divorced in 2007. However, the rules of the Post Office Retirement Fun only allowed Ms Ngewu to have access to her benefit when her ex-husband exited as a member of the Fund.
The WLC then sought direct access to the Constitutional Court to challenge the constitutionality of State Pension Fund not making provision for the clean break principle on divorce; arguing that this was an irrational differentiation which impacted negatively on women, as they are predominantly disadvantaged on divorce. This has resulted in Ms Ngewu suffering undue hardship by struggling to maintain herself and providing for her basic needs of food and shelter.
It was agreed that the Minister of Communications would amend the law within a specific time frame by no later than 7 November 2013 to include the clean break principle. However, the Minister made an urgent application to court to request an extension instead.
The WLC opposed the application, setting out the financial difficulties that Ms Ngewu has had to endure while living on the mercy of family and friends for food and shelter.
Today, the Court dismissed the Minister's application with costs, noting that they did not provide an explanation to the court as to the reason explanation to justify why the law could not be passed within the time frame in terms of their undertaking to prolong the suffering of Ms Ngewu.
The WLC welcomes this judgement.
Hoodah Abraham-Fayker, a WLC attorney said "This empowers women to have access to benefits when they are entitled to it which would protect them from finding themselves in dire financial straits when they are entitled to a pension benefit. The Constitutional Court duly considered Ms Ngewu's plight and did not accept the Minister's reasoning to grant them an extension without justification which would prejudice her further."
25 Oct. 13
The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) welcomes the judgement handed down today by Western Cape High Court in a matter relating to Muslim marriages. In this case, the State’s failure to ensure adequate procedures and regulations for the just administration for surviving spouses of Muslim Marriages was addressed.
The WLC brought a review application on behalf of the applicant against the Master of the High court and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development. The applicant was married in terms of Islamic law and 2 children were born in the marriage. When the husband died without a will in 2010, the applicant and her two minor children were left destitute after being forcefully and unlawfully removed from the marital home with by the deceased’s family members.
The applicant encountered great difficulty in proving that she was in fact a spouse at the time of the death of her husband as there are no regulations or procedures in place to provide any guidance as to the administrative process of the registration and dissolutions of marriages entered in terms of Islam.
Today, the applicant was recognised as the legal spouse, and the executor was removed with no entitlement to remuneration.
“It has been 12 years that women have been bringing these cases to courts. The passing of the Muslim Marriages Bill is long overdue, and it is, more often than not, women and children who suffer due to the state’s failure to pass the law” says Jennifer Williams – director at the WLC.
Currently, there is no legislation that recognises marriages concluded according to Muslim rites in South Africa. However, these marriages have been accorded some recognition in the courts, particularly in the area of intestate succession. In terms of the Maintenance for Surviving Spouses Act 27 of 1990 and Intestate Succession Act 81 of 1987 parties to a monogamous and polygamous Muslim marriage are entitled to inherit from their deceased spouse’s estate.
“Religious bodies are often used as proof of marriage. This judgement is a step forward in having Muslim Marriages legally recognised” says Williams.
The court has ordered the state to report on the progress made regarding the Muslim Marriages Bill by August 2014.