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African Customary Law refers to a usually uncodified legal system developed and practised by the indigenous communities of South Africa. Customary law, prior to colonialism, had its "sources in the practices, traditions and customs of the people." Customary law is fluid, and changes over time and among different groups of people. Recognition of customary law comes through the South African Constitution under section 211, although there is not a "textual connection in the definition of customary law to the communities recognised in section 31(1)."

African Customary Law

South African customary law refers to a usually uncodified legal system developed and practised by the indigenous communities of South Africa. Customary law has been defined as

an established system of immemorial rules [...] evolved from the way of life and natural wants of the people, the general context of which was a matter of common knowledge, coupled with precedents applying to special cases, which were retained in the memories of the chief and his councilors, their sons and their sons' sons until forgotten, or until they became part of the immemorial rules.

Most African states follow a pluralistic form of law that includes customary law, religious laws, received law (such as common law or civil law) and state legislation. The South African Constitution recognizes traditional authority and customary law under Section 211. A ruling under Bhe v. Magistrate, Khayelitsha specified that customary law was "protected by and subject to the Constitution in its own right." Customary law, prior to colonialism, had its "sources in the practices, traditions and customs of the people." Customary law is fluid, and changes over time and among different groups of people. In addition, ethnicity is often tied into customary law. Sally Falk Moore suggests that to have a more realistic idea of the manner in which people live according to 'the law' and 'social mores' it is necessary to study the law in the context of society, rather than attempting to separate the 'law' from 'society'.

Recognition of customary law comes through the South African Constitution under section 211, although there is not a "textual connection in the definition of customary law to the communities recognised in section 31(1)." The application of African Customary Law (ACL) is subject to the Constitution as well as to any legislation that specifically deals with it.

African Customary Law (ACL) is further protected within the Bill of Rights, most notably under the right to freedom, belief and opinion (s 15), the individual right to language and culture (s 30) as well as the collective right pertaining to cultural, religious and linguistic communities (s 31). The protection of ACL within the Bill of Rights is not subject to the same conditions as in s 211(3), namely that it must be used where applicable and subject to the relevant legislation. Accordingly, the rights in the Bill of Rights protecting ACL are subject only to the Constitution (and specifically, other rights in the Bill of Rights), and can only be limited in terms of s 36, being the general limitations clause.

Pursuant to the Constitutional Principles, the Constitution protects and recognises ACL in various ways. Chapter 12 (ss 211 and 212) affords official recognition to ACL as well as to the institution, status and role of traditional leadership. Specifically, s 211(3) mandates the application of ACL by the courts, where applicable.

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Mandela daughters take Qunu dispute to top court

Nelson Mandela's family are embroiled in a fresh legal battle over his estate, says a Sunday Times report. Zenani and Zindzi Mandela are heading to the Constitutional Court to challenge their father's decision to leave the family home in Qunu under the custodianship of the Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Family Trust.

Customary divorce not always clear-cut

Marriages performed under the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act are recognised as legal and may only be dissolved by a court through a divorce. The Star reports this was the opinion of attorney Selwyn Shapiro, who said since the Act came into force and these marriages were now recognised in law, it followed that the union had to be dissolved through divorce.

Top judge urges recognition of customary law

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Eastern Cape kingship dispute back in top court

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Traditional marriage issue heads to top court

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Winnie battling for customary law oppressed

The SCA has granted special leave to appeal to Nelson Mandela's ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela on her claims to the late President's Qunu home on the basis of customary law. Madikizela-Mandela unsuccessfully challenged the decision of the executors to exclude her from the Qunu home's ownership in the Eastern Cape High Court (Mthatha). She also lost the appeal.

Lobola issue heads to SCA

After 10 years of litigation, the lobola conundrum is set to head to the SCA. Joburg City Theatres CEO Xoliswa Nduneni-Ngema’s lengthy battle for half of wealthy businessman Sifiso Dabengwa’s estate was dealt yet another blow last week when the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) dismissed her application for leave to appeal, says a Sunday Times report. They would take the matter to the SCA, said Ike Motloung, Nduneni-Ngema’s lawyer.

Next stop SCA after Winnie Madikizela-Mandela appeal dismissed

The Mthatha High Court has dismissed the appeal of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who had laid claim to the Qunu home of former President Nelson Mandela. The court also ordered Madikizela-Mandela to pay the cost of the application, according to a report on The Citizen site. She filed an appeal in April after losing an earlier bid to lay claim to Madiba’s Qunu home in the Eastern Cape. Madikizela-Mandela’s lawyer Mvuzo Notyesi reportedly said they would now petition the SCA.

Unpaid lobola doesn't end customary marriage ruling

Customary law had evolved over the years and lobola did not have to be paid in full before a valid customary marriage could be entered into. The Mercury reports this was according to a judge in the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) when he declared an Mpumalanga man officially married to a woman who had since died. Ntombi Mbungela died in 2014 and now her daughter, Tubile Mkhonza " executor of her estate " is disputing that Madala Mkabe was her mother"s husband.

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