Last year, the Ombudsman for Long Term Insurance (OLTI) heard a unique case about customary adoption for the first time since its inception 33 years ago.

It all started when a Zulu man adopted his late sister’s son, as per isiZulu tradition. When the adopted son tragically passed away at the age of 16, the father’s life insurance refused to pay out on his funeral policy, stating that the boy wasn’t legally adopted, despite the father including his adopted son under “children” in his policy.

However, the insurance company refused to recognise the adoption because it was not confirmed by the Children’s Court. What’s more, the child was not registered by the Department of Home Affairs as the man’s adopted child.

After three years of back-and-forth meetings and hearings between the father and the insurance company, the Ombudsman for Long Term Insurance (OLTI) stepped in, and ultimately ruled in favour of the father, and it has been hailed as a legal victory for customary law in South Africa.

The father stood his ground and argued that an affidavit from the boy’s biological mother and an authorised document from the Induna (a traditional Zulu leader) from the Traditional Council was enough to prove that the boy was legally adopted in accordance with customary law.

Not only was this a favourable outcome for the father, but it sends a clear message that African legal heritages and customary law must be recognised and upheld by the justice system in South Africa.