Requirements for a Customary Marriage

Wife of HHP, Lerato Sengadi, in court
Wife of HHP, Lerato Sengadi, in court

Earlier this month traditional marriages came under the spotlight when the widow of hip-hop star, HHP, had to argue in court that the legal requirements for her customary marriage to be acknowledged had been met. The father of Jabulani ‘HHP’ Tsambo, was arguing that because lobola hadn’t been paid in full, and that the ceremony which would see the bride handed over to the groom’s family had not taken place, the marriage had not in fact been concluded.

So what then are the requirements for the law to recognise a customary marriage? Below is a summary of what the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act says about traditional marriages in South Africa:

  • The marriage must be negotiated, entered into or celebrated in accordance with the traditions and customs of the parties
  • The parties who are getting married must be 18 years or older. If one or more of the parties are minors, both his/her parents or legal guardian must give consent to the marriage
  • The parties may not be blood relatives
  • Both parties’ consent is required for the marriage to be valid
  • The marriage must be lawful
  • The marriage must be registered with the Department of Home Affairs within three months of the conclusion of the traditional marriage
  • If the registering officer is satisfied that a valid customary marriage has come into existence, the customary marriage will be registered and the parties will be provided with a registration certificate, which will serve as proof of the existence of the customary marriage, and avoid disputes that might arise in the future

It’s interesting to note that the payment of lobola is not a specific requirement of the Act, but would be considered part of the “traditions and customs of the parties”. Also important to note is that while polygamy is allowed within a customary marriage, if the parties choose to perform both a traditional ceremony and a civil marriage, marriage to more than one party would not be allowed. Polygamous marriages are only legal if all of the marriages are customary marriages.

If you’d like to find out more about what the law has to say on customary marriages then visit or download a pdf of the Act here.

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