Following on from our earlier discussion on customary marriages, cohabitation or ‘vat en sit’ is another construct worth examining. With tough economic times, many young people are putting off lobola negotiations, and choosing instead to cohabitate, sometimes under the mistaken belief that if they live together for a certain number of years, their relationship will be viewed as a legal union in the eyes of the law.
However only three types of marriages are recognised in terms of South African law*: civil marriages; customary marriages, and civil unions (partnerships between same sex couples). What is viewed as ‘common law marriage’, cohabitation or ‘vat en sit’ is not legally recognised in South Africa. To this end Ms Nthabiseng Monareng (an expert in family law) has penned the book Concubines: The Legal Implications of Cohabitation and Customary Marriages on South African Black Women.
Historically the word ‘concubine’ was used in polygamous societies to refer to a woman who lives with a man, but who has a lower status than that of his wife or wives. Monareng uses the word to draw attention to the negative implications of cohabitation of which many women are unaware.
Should you wish to obtain a copy of Monareng’s book you can make contact with her via the publishers, www.newvoices.co.za
* In terms of the Marriages and Divorces 2016 Report released by Stats SA, civil marriages increased by 0,6% in 2016 to 139 512. The report also showed an increase in customary marriages, which totalled 3 978 in 2016, as well as civil unions which totalled 1 331. KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number of customary marriages, making up just over 42% of all registered traditional marriages. It is clear from the figures that most customary marriages are not being registered with the Department of Home Affairs