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3 August 2021
UWC's newly-appointed members of the South African Law Reform Commission to review outdated matrimonial property legislation
Associate Professor Anthony Diala, founding director of the University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Legal Integration in Africa (CLIA), and Professor Lea Mwambene, a CLIA board member, have been appointed as members of the Advisory Committee on Matrimonial Property (Project 100E) of the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC).

The appointees, who are usually experts in their fields of law, are selected for their experience, independence, and commitment to social justice. 

The committee is currently reviewing the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 with the intention of bringing this nearly 40-year-old law up to date with recent developments affecting the property relations of spouses, intimate partners, and family members. These include polyandry, polygyny, equality laws, same sex unions, community of property, and recognition of Muslim marriages. While the Committee focuses on family problems brought to the SALRC’s attention, its work also includes social and legal changes that require marriage statutes to meet current social realities. 

Professors Diala (pictured left) and Mwambene, together with three other members, are assisting the SALRC to review statutes related to matrimonial property, solicit public input on matrimonial issues, and recommend changes to ensure that the Matrimonial Property Act meets contemporary social needs. Both academics bring their in-depth expertise in customary family laws, human rights, and legal pluralism to the Committee.  

The professors’ appointment is in terms of section 7A of the South African Law Reform Commission Act 19 of 1973. Under this section, the SALRC may establish a committee consisting of members of the SALRC and experts appointed by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services.

Significance of the appointment 

During the apartheid era, many black South Africans suffered serious rights deprivations. While deprivations of civil and political rights enjoyed media spotlight, deprivations of rights in the private sphere flew under the radar. 

Following the commencement of democratic governance, numerous law reforms were instituted to ensure equitable application of the law to all South Africans, irrespective of their race and social status. The SALRC was revamped and tasked with this important function. 

However, despite the extensive and often-celebrated work of the SALRC, matrimonial property law reforms have not received significant attention. The Advisory Committee on the Review of Aspects of Matrimonial Property Law seeks to change this. 

Reacting to their appointment, Professors Diala and Mwambene expressed their delight at the recognition of their expertise and affirmed their commitment to strengthening the regime of matrimonial property in South Africa to ensure that it is aligned to the rapid pace of socioeconomic changes.

Images: Professors Diala and Mwambene (main picture) specialise in customary family laws, human rights, and legal pluralism