Challenges in the Realisation of Inheritance Rights in the Customary Law of Succession: A CSSR Seminar with Fatima Osman

Historically, the customary law of succession was characterised by the principle of male primogeniture. This is the notion that succession is through the male line and men succeed to the exclusion of women. The principle which formed part of a larger framework to ensure the well-being of the family and group as a whole, was distorted during colonialism and apartheid to bolster the rights of men at the expense of women and children. Unsurprisingly, the customary law of succession has been subjected to major reform by the legislature and courts in the last few years. The Reform of Customary Law of Succession Act[1] (‘the Reform Act’) was meant to address inequality in the rights of women and children under customary law and applies the common law Intestate Succession Act[2] to regulate customary law succession.

My paper examines challenges in the realisation of inheritance rights under the current framework. It explains the concept of property grabbing and the risk factors which render individuals susceptible to this notorious phenomenon. It argues that property grabbing often manifests itself in subtle and nuanced forms, which though less apparent than threats and violence are as equally effective in separating women from their property. Finally, the paper examines practical barriers to the realisation of inheritance rights, such as the enduring effects of the migrant labour system and the sophisticated process for the lodgement of claims and argues that they pose a significant barrier to reform.

Fatima Osman is a lecturer in the Department of Private law where she lectures African Customary Law and the Law of Succession. Her research interests are primarily in notions of legal pluralism and customary law. She is currently registered for her Phd at UCT which examines the administration of customary law estates post the enactment of the Reform Act.


Tue, 25 Sep 2018 - 12:45

Centre for Social Science Research Seminar Room, 4.29, Leslie Social Science Building

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Nondumiso Hlwele