By Fidelis Munyoro
In a development likely to inspire changes in the proposed Marriages Bill that seeks to have unregistered customary law unions itemised, a High Court judge has called for a countrywide database of married individuals to reduce bigamy.
Bigamy occurs when a legally married person enters into a second marriage contract with another without dissolving the first.
Currently, individuals wishing to marry are required to provide passport size colour photographs of their images and fingerprints to discourage bigamy.
However, Justice Sylvia Chirawu-Mugomba said this was not enough in this era of technology.
She said there was nothing that prohibited the Registrar of Marriages from having a real-time online database for all married persons.
“Every marriage officer must be mandated to search the database whether or not the person intending to marry is free from other legal impediments,” said Justice Chirawu-Mugomba.
“Additionally, or alternatively, every person who intends to marry must produce a certificate of ‘present status’ obtained from the Registrar of Marriages as a form of clearance.”
The judge made the remarks while handing down judgment in the case in which a widow, Ms Susan Mobape, was suing Master of the High Court Mr Manyadzwa Kamuchira N.O. and Ms Cynthia Chaitezvi, over maintenance from the deceased estate.
Justice Chirawu-Mugomba’s remarks come against the backdrop of the proposed Marriages Bill and even proposed criminal sanctions for those found lying under oath.
She said the Registrar of Marriages could also consider obtaining affidavits from intending spouses declaring that they are nor married to anyone else under customary law (including unregistered customary law unions) or general law in addition to a certificate of present status.
“Those found to have lied under oath about their marital status must face the wrath of the law,” the judge said. “Perhaps these measures will reduce the number of bigamous marriages.”
Ms Mobape had approached the High Court seeking a review of the Master of High Court’s decision to dismiss her application for maintenance in the estate of her late husband Lovemore Mobape.
The Master of High Court threw out Ms Mobape application on the basis that she lacked the required legal footing in terms of Section 2 of the Deceased Persons Family Maintenance Act.
She was asking for a combined US$1 380 maintenance to cover herself for groceries, salaries for drivers, two security workers, church meetings, car maintenance and licensing fees.
The couple had lived together as husband and wife for 42 years under unregistered customary law union until the demise of the former in November 2017.
During the subsistence of their unregistered customary law marriage the couple had founded a church, New Gospel Church of God. But at the time of his death, Mr Mobape was still married to Ms Chaitezvi under civil law (Marriage Act (Chapter 5: 11).
The Master of the High Court had ruled that Ms Mobape was not entitled to an award of maintenance from the deceased estate in question.
In her ruling, Justice Chirawu-Mugomba upheld the decision by the Master of High Court saying Ms Mobape was not qualified to be a dependent in the estate of the deceased.
“In the final analysis, the applicant (Ms Mobape) has failed to show that she is dependent as contemplated in Section 2 of the Deceased Persons Family Maintenance Act,” she said.
Justice Chirawu-Mugomba directed the registrar of the High Court to distribute her judgment to the attention of the Master of the High Court, executive secretary of the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ)and chairperson of the Estate Administrators Council of Zimbabwe as well as the registrar of marriages. The Herald