OTHER FAMILY LAW ISSUES
GENDER RESEARCH & ADVOCACY PROJECT
In 1997, GR&AP began a combination of field research and comparative law research into the general law of divorce, with a view to advancing reform of Namibia's antiquated system. The report on its findings, entitled Proposals for Divorce Law Reform in Namibia, and a brief summary were launched in July 2000. The report includes a Draft Divorce Act, and is accompanied by a brief summary designed to facilitate public education around the issue which has been disseminated widely to interested persons and groups.
GR&AP proposals were used as the basis for deliberations by a subcommittee of the Law Reform and Development Commission on divorce, which included Dianne Hubbard of GR&AP. During 2003-4, GR&AP attended subcommittee meetings and assisted with the finalization of the bill and the accompanying explanatory memorandum.
In November 2004, the Law Reform and Development Commission published a draft Divorce Act based on the work of the subcommittee.
During 2006, GR&AP prepared a simple summary of the proposed bill, entitled Divorce Law Reform: A Summary of the
Law Reform and Development Commission Proposals, to facilitate feedback from the public. As soon as the bill moves forward in the law-making process, GR&AP will assist with popularizing the proposals and encouraging broad public input on the bill.
Read an article from our archive (2005): New law reform proposals on divorce
Customary marriages are not generally recognised under current Namibian law, although they have been granted statutory recognition for specific purposes. In recognition of the problems this presents for thousands of Namibians, GR&AP published a background paper in 1999 entitled Proposals for Law Reform on the Recognition of Customary Marriages, which explores Namibia's options in the light of other countries' experiences. The paper was submitted to the Law Reform and Development Commission, which released an official report with law reform recommendations on this topic in 2005.
The Commission proposed a draft bill entitled the Recognition of Customary Marriages Bill, in an official government report published in November 2004. GR&AP has some concerns about aspects of the draft bill and would seek amendments if it goes forward as it stands.
During 2006, GR&AP prepared a simple summary of the proposed bill, entitled Recognition of Customary Marriages: A Summary of the Law Reform and Development Commission Proposals, to facilitate feedback from the public. As soon as the bil moves forward, GR&AP will assist with popularizing the proposals and encouraging broad public input on the bill.
Read an article from our archive (2003): Recognition of customary marriages in South Africa: A Model for Namibia? (2005): Polygamy - To share or not to share? That is the question
EQUALITY IN MARRIAGE
The Married Persons Equality Act, passed in 1996, was instrumental in abolishing the unconstitutional marital powers of the husband and placing husbands and wives in Namibia on equal footing. Men and women who are married in civil marriages in community of property must now consult each other on all important financial transactions, as equal partners. To explain how the new system works, the GR&AP has published a detailed Guide to the Married Persons Equality Act as well as a shorter Summary of the Act. These publications are available in English, Afrikaans, Khoekhoegowab, Oshindonga, Otjiherero, Rukwangali and Silozi.
GR&AP has also produced a number of other simplified materials:
Beginning in 2001, GR&AP and the Gender Research and Training Unit at the University of Namibia (UNAM) worked together on research on women and property. The broad results of the field research were published by UNAM in 2004, while in 2005 GR&AP published a companion report focusing on comparative law and law reform recommendations pertaining to marital property: Marital Property in Civil and Customary Marriages: Proposals For Law Reform.
Reform on this aspect of family law is needed in Namibia because many people in hybrid marriages that combine both civil and customary aspects of marriage are negatively affected by the current law. Because outdated apartheid legislation remains in force in some parts of the country, racial discrimination continues to play a role in marital property regimes for some couples. The laws which apply racially-based rules are in urgent need of repeal.
The GR&AP Coordinator was subsequently asked to serve on the Law Reform and Development Commission’s Subcommittee on Marital Property, which used the GR&AP research as its main resource. The subcommittee completed its work in 2007, by deciding on detailed policy on marital property law reform, based primarily on GR&AP’s research and recommendations. The GR&AP Coordinator then worked together with a local attorney to draft a bill incorporating the subcommittee’s input for further discussion. This draft bill was finalised and presented to the full Law Reform and Development Commission in 2009, and the Law Reform and Development Commission is expected to present it to the Minister of justice in 2010.
Read articles from our archive (2000): Apartheid laws on marriage: Sorting out the problem; (2001): Marital property regimes and the Native Administration Proclamation; summary of this article; (2003): Moving towards equality in marriage and inheritance; (2004): Does love know any boundaries
Read an article written for the Ombetja Yehinga Organisation magazine Young Latest and Cool about the age of consent for marriage (2010):
GR&AP engaged in an extensive programe of in-depth field research into inheritance. The study contrasted a patrilineal system, a matrilineal system and a double descent system. The results of this research were published in Customary Laws on Inheritance in Namibia: Issues and questions for consideration in developing new legislation.
Read the recommendations from this book.
Research into inheritance carried out by other academics was presented in an accessible form in The Meanings of Inheritance: Perspectives on Namibian Inheritance Practices.
Various options for reform were discussed with representatives of different interests groups from all over the country at a workshop in Windhoek, supplemented by community consultations in various locations. The discussions were summarized for policy-makers in Inheritance Issues: Information and feedback from community consultations on inheritance law reforms.
In the 2003 Berendt case, the High Court invalidated portions of the 'Native Administration Proclamation 15 of 1928', a law which is surprisingly still in force in post-independent Namibia. The Court found that several sections of the Act were unconstitutional violations of the prohibition on racial discrimination of Article 10. These complicated provisions treated the estates of deceased blacks as if they were "Europeans" in some circumstances, while requiring in other circumstances that they should be distributed according to "native law and custom" . The Court also struck down the legal provision which gives magistrates the power to administer "black estates' while other estates go to the more specialized jurisdiction of the Master of the High Court.
Parliament was given the deadline of 30 June 2005 to replace these offensive sections with a new system. This deadline was extended to 30 December 2005.
In February 2005, the Law Reform and Development Commission circulated a draft bill on succession. The bill was quickly rejected by the Ministry of Justice, which circulated an alternative bill in April 2005. GR&AP made submissions on the shortcomings of the alternative bill, particularly concerned that the proposal essentially discarded customary law approaches, and it was later rejected.
Just before the end of 2005, Parliament passed a law intended to comply with the court order in Berendt. However, the law was very strange. It said that the portions of the racially-based laws were unconstitutional and repealed, but that the laws will continue to apply in force as if they had not been repealed. GR&AP is continuing its advocacy and lobbying around the inheritance issues. GR&AP is of the position that:
- The unconstitutional aspects of the law on inheritance must be changed;
- Wills should be respected;
- The laws on inheritance should ensure that the deceased's dependents are provided for;
- All wives in a polygamous marriage should share in the estate where their husband dies; and
- Property grabbing should be stopped.
Read articles from our archive (2005): Inheritance disputes and law reform possibilities; (2005): A constitutional perspective on women's property and inheritance rights within Namibia's legislative framework; Women's land and property rights: Proposals for the reform of inheritance laws in Namibia; (2006): The new law on inheritance: A law reform that doesn't change much
THE POSITION OF WIDOWS
The Communal Land Reform Act 5 of 2002 aims to improve gender equality in land rights and tenure security but an assessment of the implementation and impact of the legal provisions pertaining to women generally and widows in particular was needed. To this end, GR&AP and the Legal Assistance Centre's Land, Environment and Development Project commissioned a study in the four regions of north-central Namibia. This study investigates the extent to which the provisions of the Communal Land Reform Act are known to women and if, so, whether they are able to claim their rights as stipulated in the Act. The study also investigates a wider range of issues relating to women’s land rights and rights of inheritance, including the following:
- Are widows under family or social pressure to refuse allocation of their deceased husband’s land, and if so, who exercises this pressure?
- What happens in the event of a widow not electing to stay on the land or when there is no widow to inherit the land? What are the possible gender implications of land going to the children of the deceased identified by traditional leaders?
- How are polygamous marriages dealt with since the CLRA does not specifically provide for this?
- Are Communal Land Boards and Traditional Authorities supportive of widow’s rights and are they able to enforce the provisions of the law?
- Are widows being charged for reallocation, and if so, how does the payment compare to normal land allocation fees?
- What happens to land rights when a widow who inherited the land rights of her deceased husband remarries?
See the report for more details: Protection for women in Namibia's Communal Land Reform Act: Is it working?
In 2010 GR&AP gave comments on a new Land Bill, set to replace the Communal Land Act. Read the opinion piece about the new bill.