Court grants Nigerian pastor right to marry
Ban on asylum-seeker marriages ruled unconstitutional
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