Why the ANC Women’s League should be marching to Home Affairs

NO MAN should enter this arena lightly. But I wanted to know. Why do so many divorced women retain their husband‘s surname? The floodgates opened. Fortunately, none of the Facebook and Twitter respondents came at the questioner, though one did make the point that we should not blame women “again” for a societal problem. I learnt a lot from the responses to what clearly is a multilayered problem.

The most common response was “the children”. When a couple get divorced and the children are still young, changing the surname of the child to the mother‘s or having two biological parents with different surnames creates confusion. So, said many women, we keep the name “for the sake of the children”. And where the husband goes off or remarries and makes another life, the irritation of his name remaining behind with subsequent children “is a bonus”, said one woman.

What was disturbing, though, was the second-most common explanation — the Department of Home Affairs. “Try to change your name, Jon,” said a family friend. What followed were horror stories of how incredibly difficult it is to change your surname after a divorce in South Africa. A light-hearted friend, recently divorced, imagined applying for a change of surname only to get back from Home Affairs documents rendering her names as “Matric Exemption” along with a Nigerian husband she had never met.

Even when women married and insisted on separate names ahead of a marriage, officialdom balked and assigned the husband‘s name. These women were frustrated that the bureaucracy would not fall in line with the times, let alone be responsive to their expectations.