ABOUT 84 percent of marriages in Zimbabwe are unregistered customary unions, a development that has fuelled a surge in inheritance and divorce cases before the courts. Speaking at a workshop on marriage and succession laws in Harare yesterday, Deputy Registrar-General Ms Locadia Majonga said unregistered marriages had seen a lot of people fighting over estates in the event of death or divorce.
The workshop, which brought together the RG's office, church leaders and cultural groups, sought to come up with recommendations that would assist Governemnt in reviewing marriage laws.
The Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs administers the marriage laws.
"The relationships that are in the majority in Zimbabwe are legally referred to as unions and not marriages because they are not registered," said Ms Majonga.
"About 84 percent are not registered and do not qualify under the definition of marriage, which is a contract between two parties of different sexes."
There are two types of marriages legally recognised in Zimbabwe, the Marriages Act Chapter 5:11 which is monogamous and the registered customary union, which is covered under the Customary Marriages Act Chapter 5:07.
Ms Majonga said registered customary union recognises the union as being guided by cultural rules and a man was allowed to marry more than one wife and is the legally recognised guardian of the children.
Ms Majonga said unregistered customary unions had created a lot of problems among spouses, with women being the most victims.
The union involves a man and woman living together after fulfilling cultural marriage ceremonies like lobola payment, but without signing the legal marriage register as required by the laws of Zimbabwe.
"We have a problem regarding all the unregistered relationships because in the eyes of the law, they
are only recognised for maintenance purposes," she said.
"In the event that one dies or divorces while in an unregistered union, there are problems with regards to inheritance and women in most cases suffer a blow as they act as shock absorbers."
Ms Majonga said there were recent cases where the unions had been recognised for the purposes of adultery or bigamy.
"We have also seen those in a union trying to move towards the registration of another marriage in terms of Chapter 5:11 and the intended registration of the marriage have been stopped because a person will be committing bigamy since one of the parties will be in a union," Ms Majonga said.
She said there was a need for Zimbabwe to comply with the international convention on marriages.
"We have signed international conventions and we have to comply with that," she said.
"It is, however, up to the people to decide whether or not they want all unions to be registered, that is why we have brought the issues for discussion.
"Another issue that we think should be addressed is the Matrimonial Causes Act. It does not provide a percentage upon which judges can make a decision as to whether or not to grant either of the parties a certain component of the property."
Registrar-General Mr Tobaiwa Mudede said legislation on marriage had loopholes and required urgent attention to protect the family and cultural values.
He said there was a need for provisions of the Civil Marriage Act to deal with problems associated with African cultural values.
"The Civil Marriage Act requires stakeholders to look into it and probably find ways of addressing the issue with a view to suit our cultural values and beliefs," said Mr Mudede.
"What is important is love between the two parties, we have realised that some of the marriages are only on paper and are not in love which is important for the unity of any family."
Other women's groups who presented papers at the workshop expressed concern over the inheritance laws which they said were a disaster to children.
They called for the protection of children in the country's inheritance laws.
Pastor David Chinyere of Kingdom Ministries said a marriage should be a lifetime contract.
"The new world order is distorting our culture and you see things like a six-year marriage contract being registered. Just like homosexuality, this should not be allowed in our country as it destroys the morale fibre," he said.
Pastor Chinyere said a holistic approach was needed to reduce divorce cases which were affecting families and cultural values.