'Wife MUST get the house'? No thanks!
When couples divorce, Human Settlements Minister says the wife must keep state property.

Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisula has caused the second uproarin a week by making controversial statements about what should happen to state houses occupied by married couples in the event of a divorce, according to News24.com. The minister has stated that if a couple in a government house get divorced, the house “must go to the wife”.

She didn’t stop there. She was quoted as saying that [in relation to public housing] “When they get divorced the house belongs to the woman. That is our policy. So the man just picks up his jacket and gets out”. She explained that her reasoning is that mothers are the primary caregivers for children and that the wife must stay because the wife “is responsible for the children”.

Her proposed amendment has not been fixed in law because, she claims, that department is “presided by men” (sic).

Child-headed households?

These comments aren’t the sum total of her plan; she also said that if the wife died the house could go to the man, but then his children must also be beneficiaries. If he then “found another woman” he would have to leave the house to his children.

The problems with Minister Sisulu’s proposed amendments are manifold: not only do they undermine the equality enjoyed by men and women under the Constitution of South Africa, but they also threaten to cause damage to relationships within families.

It follows that, judging by the Minister’s statements, men are not responsible for anything within the household and certainly not as caregivers to their children. The property is deemed more important than the relationship between the mother, the father and the children.

In a society where, according to research done by the South African Institute of Race Relations, nine million children are raised in single-parent families, primarily by mothers, Sisulu’s statements are disastrous: 85% of children with behavioural disorders, 90% of homeless children, 71% of children not at school and 63% of children attempting suicide all come from fatherless homes. (via Helderberg Academy). An amendment such as the one proposed could even further alienate fathers from their children and take away their rights to access to their children (and the right to housing).

Sisulu’s statements indicate that she has not considered the full implications of such an amendment. If the father (after becoming a widower and “claiming” the house) suddenly has a new partner, he has to leave his property to his, presumably minor, children?

Forget for a moment that there are plenty of deadbeat dads in this country who leave their kids to be raised by the children’s’ mothers, fathers have equal rights to mothers and, under no circumstances, should be compelled to “take their jackets and go” in the event of a divorce.

Turning vulnerable children into pawns

I strongly disagree with Sisulu's proposed amendments. In the event of a divorce, both parents must be able to enjoy equal rights and access to their children. The suggested legislation could have disastrous repercussions on families; men would theoretically eschew committed relationships- after all, they wouldn't be able to claim equal rights in the event of a divorce, and, also in theory, men would be seen as secondary partners when it comes to parenting, also possibly resulting in fathers shirking their responsibilities to their kids. That's only when it comes to men who aren't in a position where they are committed partners and co-parents. Since children's rights should be considered first when it comes to the law, children should be protected from proposed legislation which could see them placed in a vulnerable position where they could feasibly be used as pawns in a divorce situation in order for the mother to gain control of a property.

Society is slowly adapting to the realisation that fathers can be as capable as mothers in terms of caring for children. A divorce is traumatic for all parties; forcing the man to leave as proposed by the minister leaves the potential for even more of a destructive hangover. Children will feel abandoned, fathers will experience guilt at leaving their kids and anger at their former partners for retaining the property. It will be much harder for divorced fathers to have access to their kids in the context of these amendments, thus increasing the likelihood that children will grow up with the sense that they had no father.

The Constitution, Marriage Act, Divorce Act and many more legal documents refute Minister Sisulu’s statements. While some reforms to the Housing Act in order to provide even more equality to women and men would be welcomed, suggesting that “the man should just take his jacket and go” is a facile, if not dangerous, position.

The minister, as a previously divorced mother who has also lost her house to repossession after failing to make bond payments (according to IOL), should perhaps take a step back from her suggestions and consider with empathy the impact her proposed amendments could have on generations of families.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

What do you think about the minister’s statements that in a divorce the man should “just go” and leave the property to his former wife?

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