New laws proposed for South Africa – including changes to marriages

The National Assembly has passed a number of new bills dealing with a range of issues including marriage, criminal offences and social justice issues.

The bills were passed on Tuesday (9 June) and will now go to the National Council of Provinces for consideration, after which they will undergo the full consideration process.

Below the bills are outlined in more detail.


The Recognition of Customary Marriages Amendment Bill aims to address a Constitutional Court ruling that section 7(1) of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998 was inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid.

This was because the section limited the right to human dignity and discriminated unfairly on the basis of gender and race, ethnic or social origin against women who entered into polygamous customary marriages before the 1998 Recognition of Customary Marriages Act.

The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services noted that the South African Law Reform Commission, with the Department of Home Affairs, is also reviewing the South African marriage regime.

The Department of Home Affairs has said that it will submit this as a separate policy, and will be gazetted for public consultation during the 2020/21 financial year, after which it will be submitted to cabinet for approval by 31 March 2021.

The department explained that the legislation which currently regulates marriages in South Africa has been developed without an overarching policy that is based on constitutional values (e.g. equality, nondiscrimination and human dignity) and an understanding of modern social dynamics.

This has led to the recognition of different marriage rituals without any harmonisation, it said.

“Despite all the changes that have been made in the marriage legislation post-1994, there are still serious gaps in the current legislation.

“For instance, the current legislation does not regulate some religious marriages such as the Hindu, Muslim and other customary marriages that are practised in some African or royal families.

“Given the diversity of the South Africa population it is virtually impossible to pass legislation governing every single religious or cultural marriage practice.

“It is against this background that the DHA is embarking in the process of developing a marriage policy that will lay a policy foundation for drafting a new single or omnibus legislation.”

Some of the key changes that will be introduced in the new policy include:

  • The new Marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientation, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages;
  • The introduction of strict rules around the age of marriage (including the alignment of age of majority in the marriage legislation to the Children’s Act);
  • It will align the marriage, matrimonial property and divorce legislation to address matrimonial property and intestate succession matters in the event of the marriage dissolution;
  • It will allow for equitable treatment and respect for religious and customary beliefs in line with Section 15 of the Constitution.
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of marriages that involve foreign nationals;
  • It will deal with the solemnisation and registration of customary marriages that involve non-citizens especially cross-border communities or citizens of our neighbouring countries.


The Prescription in Civil and Criminal Matters (Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill aims to amend the Prescription Act of 1969 to extend the list of sexual offences in respect of which prescription does not start to run under certain circumstances.

The Bill also amends the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, to extend the list of sexual offences for which prosecution may be started after 20 years has lapsed since the date of the alleged commission of the sexual offence.

This effectively means that criminals can still be brought to trial for crimes that they committed 20 years ago or more.


The Social Assistance Amendment Bill aims to amend the Social Assistance Act to make it easier for a number of South Africans to receive grants.

Some of the key changes include:

  • It will provide for additional payments linked to social grants;
  • It will provide for payment of benefits to a child-headed household;
  • It will provide for social relief of distress in the event of a disaster.

Read: All South African students and university staff will have to register to be screened and cleared for Covid-19 every day

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New laws proposed for South Africa – including changes to marriages