Ruch took her to the train station and they went on their first date that evening. They spent progressively more time together and soon engaged in a relationship. Four months after the first meeting, she moved in with him. They alternated between the flat and the guest house. She always maintained her room at the premises where she worked, in case she had to work late.
Two of Ruch’s friends supported her application, describing how the couple were always together and that he “treated her like a princess”.
It was a permanent life partnership, Bwanya said. He was helping her get her driver’s licence, and they intended starting a cleaning business.
They were in the process of organising a trip to Zimbabwe so that he could pay lobola when he died unexpectedly in April 2016, aged 57.
He had never married and he had no surviving relatives.
The Judge said the Act excluded life partners in permanent opposite-sex life partnerships from inheriting, as did the Maintenance of Surviving Spouses Act, which specifically defined “survivor”, “spouse”, and “marriage”.
The Women’s Legal Centre and the Commission for Gender Equality were admitted as amici curiae “acting in the interests of a group or class of people as well as in the public interest”.
The centre said the existing laws had a devastating effect on women and children and there were many reasons why couples lived together without getting married.
The judge ruled that on the evidence before him, Bwanya and Ruch were in a permanent life partnership and the offending laws were discriminatory to her and others in her situation.
This discrimination was unfair and in breach of the constitution.
The Legal Resources Centre, which represented the commission, said the declaration of invalidity in relation to the Intestate Succession Act was an important development of South African jurisprudence on the rights of opposite-sex permanent life partnerships. It said: “Often women in such relationships are vulnerable and suffer discrimination when the relationship is terminated by death. The decision is therefore a welcome development in advancing the rights of women to equality and dignity, specifically in relationships.”
This article was first published by GroundUp.