At the joint TEASA-DHA workshop on 10 November 2023, TEASA pastors had the opportunity to raise their questions and frustrations in the interactions with DHA, regarding their role as Marriage Officers.
The questions and concerns were as follows:
Q: What is the department doing to address the issue of Pastors queueing for hours at DHA offices when they register marriages?
A: This should not be happening. The role that Churches play in assisting the DHA to serve communities in this way is highly valued. Contact details of provincial DHA officials were made available to pastors to assist address this matter.
There are capacity issues within the DHA that hinder effectiveness and efficiencies in facilitating Church marriage officers’ special treatment as stakeholders with the DHA. Only 30% of DHA personnel are available to provide services to the entire population. However, the budget was increased to employ more personnel, and hopefully it will be increased some more.
Q: The Marriage Officer application process is frustrating. For instance, Pastors have passed exams but never received their certificates. How will the DHA deal with this?
A: This is the result of a backlog resulting in the lack of available personnel, as explained above. Additionally, most times the candidates for Marriage Officers’ exams do not pass to their required pass mark, which is set very high (80%) due to the importance the DHA places on the role of marriage officers.
The DHA also further committed to partnering with TEASA to help train pastors in readiness for their Marriage officers’ exams.
Q: Pastors are frustrated by unanswered phone-calls and emails. The telephone number that was provided often goes unanswered, and sending documents via registered mail does not provide certainty that the DHA will respond.
A: Likewise, this is the result of a backlog resulting in the lack of available personnel, as explained above. Contact details of relevant DHA personnel in each province were shared with participants.
Q: There’s a lack of consistency at DHA local offices. For instance, different documents are required by different offices, for the same thing. Front-line officials also appear to be not well capacitated to handle their administrative functions. What is being done to ensure a standardised approach across the entire Department of Home Affairs?
A: This is the result of a backlog resulting in the lack of available personnel, as explained above, however, more will be done to make communication between the DHA, Pastors and Marriage Officers more efficient.
Q: Given the staffing constraints that the DHA is experiencing, is it not possible for the churches to provide, from their congregations, personnel to help do the work needed?
A: Unfortunately, that is not within the procedures of the DHA’s functionality.
Q: Pastors and Marriage Officers have not been able to verify the marriage and/or eligibility status of the couples they are seeking to marry at local offices because they are told it is only done at Head Office in Pretoria. Is this accurate?
A: Pastors have a direct line with offices and office managers that should be approached before they escalate matters to Head Office. Capturing of marriages is done at local offices.
Q: How many marriage officers can a church have?
A: The DHA cannot provide a legal restriction on the number of marriage officers a church can have.
Q: What is the eligibility of foreigners to be marriage officers, if they are Permanent Residency holders?
A: The Marriage Bill is still to be presented at various platforms, including the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor (OCSLA) and Parliament, thus a definite response cannot be provided at this point.
Q: Is it possible to have training manuals and other study materials translated into various languages, so as to make it easier for non-English speakers to access them?
A: Yes. Manuals will be reviewed and translated into all official languages.
Q: Is Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) permitted as the basis of qualification as a Marriage Officer?
A: RPL is not yet permitted or recognised by the DHA as a means of qualifying as a Marriage Officer.
Q: Irrespective of the duration of the training, is it possible for the prospective Marriage Officer to withdraw from writing if they feel they are not ready?
A: In order to avoid such unfortunate circumstances, the DHA believes that training should begin at the church level, so that by the time prospective Marriage Offers must write their examinations at the DHA, they are well prepared.
Q: In order to mitigate the low pass rate amongst those sitting for Marriage Officer examinations, is there no stipulated policy in terms of training for a particular duration? And, besides the learning academy, are there any private training service providers the DHA could recommend?
A: As stated above, churches should be the place where training should begin. The DHA cannot recommend any particular service providers.
Q: With regards to the manual and in particular on the issue of divorce, the officers of the DHA appear not to know what the manual says themselves.
A: This may be an issue with the structure of the manual. We will review it and align it with the Bill. The DHA commits to working on this with pastors.
Q: How does a Controlling Body Register work? What is the process that ought to be followed?
A: The Controlling Bodies need to be registered with DHA so they can be included in the DHA database and they must submit a list of their Marriage Officers annually.
Q: Is there a limit to the number of controlling bodies?
A: There is no limit to the number of controlling bodies, currently there are 250 controlling bodies registered with DHA.
Q: Please may you provide clarity on customary marriages and the legal aspects of lobola. According to customary law, once lobola is paid the marriage is recognised as existing. What guidelines can assist us in understanding the legal status of a marriage, after the completion of lobola?
A: There are three requirements that need to be met to prove that lobola took place: witnesses, a letter acknowledging the receipt of the lobola, and proof that the lobola was celebrated.
Q: The issue of strategic partnerships in stakeholder management must be elevated, as Pastors and Church Leaders are key stakeholders and not just customers/clients. Issues such as queuing, consultations, etc. can be clarified and resolved by implementing effective stakeholder management processes. Not only will this help the DHA, but it will strengthen the capacity of churches and encourage collaboration and cooperation with the DHA as well. What is the DHA’s view on this?
A: The DHA welcomes the call for collaboration. Strategic Partnerships will be prioritized with churches and controlling bodies.
Issues of Concern
- The DHA has noted the utilisation of documents by pastors in an inappropriate manner, i.e.: borrowing each other licences. This is a criminal offence that results in litigation against the DHA.
- The DHA has noted the raised issue of communication with Pastors about various processes. DHA maintains that communication channels are open, even if there are challenges in this area.
- Marriage Officers request that the deadline to submit documents be increased. A three-day window for submissions is not always practical as some couples go on a honeymoon immediately after the marriage is officiated, thus Marriage Officers request that at least six weeks be given for submissions, instead of the current three days.
- Pastors request that they are timeously updated on any new developments/changes made to the DHA’s marriage regime. If there are changes, Pastors must be provided training to acclimatise them to the new requirements. This requires improved communication.
- It is requested that the DHA resuscitate the SMS verification of marriage statuses. This will mitigate the challenges that arise when Pastors need to verify the marital status of couples intending to marry.
For more information, please view this PowerPoint presentation made at the conference by Deputy Director General Mr LT Sigama: Draft Presentation of Solemnisation of Civil Union Marriage and process of appointment of marriage officers V3 (00000003)