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Over 2,000 phoney marriages reported in South Africa, but only 1,160 ‘truly fraudulent’

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  • Minister of home affairs Aaron Motsoaledi said there had been 2,162 fraudulent marriages in South Africa from 1 April 2018 to June 2019.

  • But the marriages were only reported as fraudulent. They included marriages of convenience, which are legal and can only be ended with divorce.

  • Only 1,160 were found to be “truly fraudulent” and removed from the home affairs department’s records.

Untangling the issue of fraudulent marriages had been his “baptism of fire”, South Africa’s new home affairs minister said on radio.

“Between the 1st of April last year until now… there were 2,162 fraudulent marriages," Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said in a 6 June 2019 interview.

Motsoaledi took office in May 2019. He was previously the health minister.

We looked at the numbers. 

People must agree to marry

There are different types of marriages in South Africa, Dr Desia Colgan, a law lecturer at Wits University, told Africa Check. 

“In our law we have civil marriages, customary law marriages and religious marriages.” 

Colgan said the issue of fraudulent marriages applied to civil marriages, which are conducted under the Marriage Act or the Civil Unions Act. Importantly, both people have to agree - or consent - to get married. 

“If a marriage is fraudulent it is usually because consent is not there to marry or to marry each other and if that is missing then the marriage can be annulled,” said Colgan.

Caryn Myers, a lawyer from Myers Attorneys, told Africa Check that when a marriage was annulled, “a court gives an order to declare that the marriage never existed”.

Marriages of convenience ‘not fraudulent at all’

Motsoaledi’s numbers came from applications for marriages to be annulled,  department of home affairs media manager David Hlabane told Africa Check.

“The figure we gave for cases received from complainants about fraudulent marriages (2,132) is for the period 1 April 2018 to June 2019,” Hlabane said. (Note: Motsoaledi appears to have mistakenly put the number at 2,162 in the interview.)

During the interview, Motsoaledi described different types of fraudulent marriages. The first was a “marriage of convenience” - which he then, confusingly, said was “not fraudulent at all”.

Myers told Africa Check a “marriage of convenience” occured when a foreign person wanted to gain residency in a country. They will marry someone living there so they can get a visa. She said the marriage was legal because all the marriage requirements - including consent - were in place. 

Marriages of convenience accounted for 646 of the 2,132 fraudulent marriages reported from 1 April 2018 to June 2019, Hlabane said. Motsoaledi called these “legitimate” marriages in his July 2019 budget speech.

“In our law, if both parties consent then the marriage is valid. Even if the motive is not truly to be married and abuse the legal system you are still married and would therefore need to divorce,” said Colgan. 

1,160 ‘truly fraudulent’ marriages

In his interview, Motsoaledi gave other examples of fraudulent marriages. 

These can be perpetrated by fraud syndicates made up of home affairs officials and marriage officers, by employment agencies who sell identity documents used for marriages, or occur when someone’s identity has been stolen. 

The department had removed 1,160 “fake” marriages from its record, out of the complaints it had received. These marriages were “truly fraudulent”, Motsoaledi said in his budget speech. Hlabane said 326 complaints were still being investigated. 

Myers told Africa Check the “figures may be true” but that the number of fraudulent marriages cited by Motsoaledi “might be misleading”.

“The statement should read 2,132 cases of fraudulent marriages have been reported,” she said. 

Conclusion: 1,160 marriages, not 2,162, found to be fraudulent and annulled

South Africa’s new minister of home affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, claimed on radio that there had been 2,162 fraudulent marriages in the country since April 2018.

His spokesperson said there had been 2,132 applications to have marriages annulled, based on the claim that they were fraudulent. 

But only 1,160 marriages were found to be “truly fraudulent” and annulled, or removed from the department of home affairs’ records.  

A total of 632 were identified as marriages of convenience. But these were not fraudulent, as the minister said. A further 326 cases are still under investigation. 

We therefore rate the claim as misleading.

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