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Home Affairs botch up leaves Durban widow 'divorced'

Published Jan 22, 2022

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Durban - After being happily married for more than 30 years, Durban resident Gourie Bryce was shocked when she received her husband’s death certificate which listed her marital status as “divorced”.

To make matters worse, the Department of Home Affairs has not yet rectified the mistake – despite repeated requests – leaving her unable to settle his affairs.

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Bryce, 59, said her husband, James Hogg Bryce, died of natural causes last October. When her son collected the death certificate from the funeral parlour, he immediately called her.

“My son phoned and said, ’are you hiding something from us, we never knew you were divorced’?

“I was so shocked when I learnt that the marital status on my husband’s death certificate stated ‘divorced’.

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“We were married in 1989 and we never even argued, let alone got divorced.

“Anyone will tell you, my husband was a wonderful man,” she said.

Bryce has three grown-up children, with one daughter in Durban and her other daughter and son living in the UK. She said her son and daughter had immediately travelled to SA on being told of their father’s death.

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“We had been chatting with them just the night before, as they were together in the UK for the weekend. My husband died three hours later in the early hours of the next morning,” she said.

After learning about the error on the death certificate, Bryce immediately went to the Department of Home Affairs in Umgeni Road.

“It was a time of grief and trauma for our family. It was not an easy time at all.

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“I asked them (Home Affairs) to rectify the death certificate and the official told me ‘not to worry, it happens all the time’.”

She was told by Home Affairs to go to the High Court to prove she and her husband were not divorced, which she did. She also got a court letter confirming there was no record of divorce in her husband’s name.

“While I was there, the lady helping me also said ‘this happens all the time’,” she said.

The court letter was submitted with a copy of her husband’s ID document to the head office of Home Affairs, yet despite repeated queries, the mistake has not yet been rectified.

“How did this happen? Who changed my husband’s marital status and what would be the reason for changing it?

“I need to wind up his affairs, but I need the correct certificate. Anything I do needs paperwork, but I can’t do anything until the death certificate is correct,” she said, adding that she had also sent numerous emails to the department about the issue and had no response.

Bryce said that on Tuesday this week, she was asked to submit an affidavit to Home Affairs confirming her marriage, which she had done.

She described her family as close-knit, recalling happy times and holidays spent together while their children were growing up.

Her husband was from Scotland, but when they met in Durban in the late ’80s, she said “we clicked immediately. We got married here in Durban and we had so many good times”.

“My husband was calm, solid, humble, caring and loving. This situation has been so frustrating and when two different departments tell you ‘it happens all the time’, the public needs to know.

“What is being done to rectify these matters?” she asked.

Despite repeated requests for comment via WhatsApp and email, the Department of Home Affairs did not respond to questions on the matter.

The Independent on Saturday

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