The thin edge of the wedge: ukuthwala, alienation and consent
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Ukuthwala, a mock abduction of a girl for the purpose of a customary marriage, has been subject to debate at both local and national level. This debate culminated into a South African Law Reform Commission Report on the practice of ukuthwala. However, the case of Jezile v S brings theory into reality, putting in stark relief the issues that surround this custom in a constitutional democracy. The Jezile case highlights the disjuncture between communities’ lived realities and the constitutional imperatives of the right to practice one’s culture, as well as the rights to equality and dignity, specifically for women and the girl child in the context of ukuthwala. Based on field research conducted in September 2015 and April 2016 in Engcobo (where the ukuthwala was alleged to take place in Jezile), this article sets out the community’s views in the aftermath of the case. Highlighting the alienation of the community from the law, and the complexities in understanding consent, the article posits that much more needs to be done from the ‘bottom up’ to ensure gender equality and protection of the girl child from harm.