Court grants Nige­rian pas­tor right to marry

Ban on asy­lum-seeker mar­riages ruled un­con­sti­tu­tional

The Herald (South Africa) - - Front Page - Gareth Wil­son [email protected]­soblack­star.co.za

Three years af­ter he popped the ques­tion, a Nige­rian pas­tor will fi­nally be able to marry his South African sweet­heart – af­ter the Supreme Court of Ap­peal ruled that the depart­ment of home af­fairs’ ban on asy­lum-seeker mar­riages was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The ap­peal court backed a 2018 Port El­iz­a­beth High Court ruling that stated the mar­riage pol­icy was un­con­sti­tu­tional as well as a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional agree­ments.

The ap­peal came af­ter a di­rec­tive was is­sued by the depart­ment in Septem­ber 2016 that for­bade mar­riages for asy­lum seek­ers in South Africa.

The depart­ment had taken the case to the ap­peal court in an at­tempt to get the ruling over­turned.

It ar­gued that the di­rec­tive was in­tro­duced as part of a push to stop fake mar­riages.

The three-year court bat­tle was in­sti­tuted by Nige­rian pas­tor Em­manuel Paulk­ing Oche Ochogwu, 36, who was pre­vented from mar­ry­ing Zizipho Nku­manda, 26, in 2016.

The cou­ple are mar­ried by cus­tom­ary law but were un­able to reg­is­ter their mar­riage.

Ochogwu, who said he had fled per­se­cu­tion from Is­lamic ex­trem­ist group Boko Haram, came to South Africa af­ter leav­ing north­ern Nige­ria in 2012.

“I have seen and am aware of nu­mer­ous Chris­tians who have been killed by Boko Haram,” Ochogwu said in his court pa­pers.

“These Chris­tians were thrown in wells or burnt.

“Boko Haram has also at­tacked churches, burn­ing them down and bomb­ing them.

“My younger brother was killed by Boko Haram dur­ing one such at­tack.

“When the at­tacks against Chris­tians and churches were

in­creas­ing, I came to South Africa as I feared for my life.

Ochogwu and Nku­manda had planned to marry on Valen­tine’s Day in 2016, only to have their dreams dashed.

“They [home af­fairs] wanted to tear my fam­ily apart, it has been re­ally stress­ful,” Ochogwu, a pas­tor at the Do­min­ion Em­bassy church in Cen­tral, Port El­iz­a­beth, said.

“We are both just so grate­ful that it is fi­nalised. The ruling is such a huge re­lief.

“We did not only do this for our­selves, we did this for ev­ery­one in the same sit­u­a­tion.

“As a fam­ily, we felt that we could not stand by and watch oth­ers also go through this trauma.

“It ul­ti­mately gave the govern­ment [power] to rip fam­i­lies apart.”

The cou­ple met when Nku­manda, who is from East Lon­don, was a stu­dent at Nelson Man­dela Uni­ver­sity.

Ochogwu, who also has a three-year-old boy with Nku­manda, said he hoped to be of­fi­cially mar­ried by the time his sec­ond child ar­rived.

“She [Nku­manda] is due to give birth early next year, so we are pray­ing that this can all be re­solved by then.

“We are now just wait­ing for a date from the depart­ment.

“I just pray it will be be­fore my sec­ond child ar­rives.”

Nelson Man­dela Uni­ver­sity Refugee Rights Cen­tre hu­man rights lawyer Liesl Fourie called the judg­ment a vic­tory for thou­sands of asy­lum seek­ers want­ing to get mar­ried in South Africa.

“This is a judg­ment that will have a ma­jor im­pact on the lives of those who have ap­plied for asy­lum and are still await­ing the out­come of their ap­pli­ca­tion,” she said.

“Some of them have been wait­ing for more than a decade.

“Af­ter the judg­ment, I no­ti­fied the state at­tor­ney and asked them to alert the depart­ment of home af­fairs’ le­gal divi­sion to is­sue an in­struc­tion.

“A new di­rec­tive will have to be is­sued al­low­ing for the mar­riages. When that will hap­pen, we do not know yet.”

Asked about the im­pact this could have on the is­sue of fake mar­riages, Fourie said the ruling had no ef­fect on such cases.

“The poli­cies in place to deal with the fake mar­riages re­late to the ap­pli­ca­tion for spousal per­mits.

“When the ap­pli­cants ap­ply for a spousal per­mit or its re­newal, im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials are sup­posed to go out and in­ves­ti­gate the mar­ried cou­ple’s sit­u­a­tion at home and interview them.

“The depart­ment has poli­cies in place to as­sess fake mar­riages and will con­tinue to en­force that.

“They can­not sim­ply [ap­ply a] blan­ket [ban to] ev­ery­one, even those who have done noth­ing wrong and le­git­i­mately want to get mar­ried,” she said.

Home af­fairs spokesper­son Siya Qoza said he would ask the depart­ment’s le­gal depart­ment when a di­rec­tive would be is­sued and re­spond as soon as he had the in­for­ma­tion.

Pas­tor Ochogwu and Nku­manda planned to wed on Valen­tine’s Day in 2016

MA­JOR VIC­TORY: Pas­tor Em­manuel Ochogwu and Zizipho Nku­manda may now marry

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