A Patchwork of Marriages: The Legal Relevance of Marriage in a Plural Legal System

21 Pages Posted: 29 Dec 2016

See all articles by Elsje Bonthuys

Elsje Bonthuys

University of the Witwatersrand

Date Written: December 28, 2016

Abstract

English Abstract: Like many former colonies, South Africa has a plural system of family law which has historically recognized the polygynous marriages practiced by the indigenous African inhabitants of the country. However, recognition of these marriages by way of legal pluralism does not afford them equal status with the monogamous Judaeo-Christian marriage imported by European colonisers, nor does it ensure gender equality within families. Instead, the interaction between the colonial and apartheid socio-economic oppression of black people on the one hand, and legal pluralism on the other hand, produces a highly complex family law system, accurately described as ‘a patchwork of patriarchies.’ This paper argues that a far more radical transformation of family law, and one which is more likely to enhance gender equality, would be to move away from conjugality, or a sexual bond, as the basis of marriage and family law. The aim of this shift would be legal rules which recognize those relationships of kinship which have been central to African family practices and which have assisted many families to weather the multiple forms of colonial and white domination. A move away from conjugality as the primary basis of family law would also acknowledge the ever decreasing incidence of marriage and nuclear families, which characterizes contemporary South African society and would place the focus of legal regulation on the protection of socially valuable relationships, rather than the protection of marriage as an institution.

Spanish Abstract: Al igual que otras antiguas colonias, Sudáfrica tiene un sistema de derecho de familia plural, que ha reconocido históricamente los matrimonios en poliginia practicados por personas indígenas africanas. Sin embargo, el reconocimiento de estos matrimonios mediante pluralismo jurídico no les garantiza el mismo estatus que el matrimonio monogámico judeocristiano, ni garantiza la igualdad de género dentro de las familias. Al contrario, la interacción entre la opresión socioeconómica colonial y el apartheid a las personsa negras por un lado, y el pluralismo jurídico por otro, produce un sistema de derecho de familia muy complejo, que se puede describir mejor como "un mosaico de patriarcados". Este artículo defiende un alejamiento de la conjugalidad como base del derecho de familia, para reconocer relaciones de parentesco que han sido centrales en las prácticas familiares africanas y que han ayudado a muchas familias a sobrellevar la dominación colonial blanca. Este alejamiento de la conjugalidad también reconocería la disminución de la incidencia del matrimonio y las familias nucleares en la Sudáfrica contemporánea y cambiaría el enfoque de la regulación jurídica para proteger las relaciones socialmente valiosas, en lugar de proteger el matrimonio como institución.

Keywords: Pluralism, polygamy, congugality, racial discrimination, gender discrimination, Pluralismo, poligamia, conjugalidad, discriminación racial, discriminación de género

Suggested Citation

Bonthuys, Elsje, A Patchwork of Marriages: The Legal Relevance of Marriage in a Plural Legal System (December 28, 2016). Oñati Socio-Legal Series, Vol. 6, No. 6, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2891014

Elsje Bonthuys (Contact Author)

University of the Witwatersrand ( email )

1 Jan Smuts Avenue
Gauteng 2000
South Africa

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
329
Abstract Views
977
rank
91,925
PlumX Metrics