Is pay­ing

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide - Lobola

MAR­RIAGE was in­sti­tuted by God in the Gar­den of Eden at the time of man’s cre­ation as a union be­tween man and woman.

Many con­sider them­selves lucky to have found a life-long part­ner but oth­ers view it as an op­pres­sive in­sti­tu­tion.

Scores of women suf­fer at the hands of their hus­bands while many other men rue the day they paid lobola for their part­ners as they turn out to be toxic.

Many rea­sons can ac­count for the dis­crep­an­cies around this “covenant” but one of the most wor­ry­ing is that of en­ti­tle­ment re­sult­ing in vi­o­lence and op­pres­sion in a mar­riage.

Of­ten we hear sto­ries about how a man beat up his wife be­cause he “paid for her” or ex­pects her to dress or be­have in a cer­tain man­ner be­cause her par­ents “charged him a lot of money” there­fore he has the right to dic­tate how she lives her life.

This in it­self has drawn at­ten­tion to lobola, its im­por­tance and why so­ci­ety has up­held this cul­ture for so many years.

Ques­tions have been brought up about the sig­nif­i­cance of pay­ing lobola in African cul­ture and whether or not its con­tin­ued prac­tice is fu­elling gen­der­based vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion against women.

So­cial me­dia was abuzz af­ter a Harare woman re­cently ap­proached the Con­sti­tu­tional Court chal­leng­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the prac­tice of pay­ing lobola, say­ing it re­duces women to mere “as­sets” that are open to abuse.

Ms Pric­cilar Venge­sai, a for­mer Chi­tung­wiza mu­nic­i­pal­ity cham­ber sec­re­tary, wants the prac­tice to be abol­ished. Al­ter­na­tively, she wants par­ents of both the bride and the groom to be thanked for rais­ing their chil­dren well through lobola in the spirit of gen­der equal­ity.

Ms Venge­sai, who is a lawyer, con­tends that women’s rights to dig­nity, equal­ity and non-dis­crim­i­na­tion were at stake and that the courts should be quick to de­clare the cus­tom­ary prac­tice un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Cou­ples, ac­cord­ing to Ms Venge­sai, should be al­lowed to live to­gether as hus­band and wife with­out be­ing com­pelled to pay bride price. If lobola should stay, Ms Venge­sai said, it should be paid to both fam­i­lies.

“I be­long to the Shona tribe and I in­tend to en­ter into mar­riage as soon as this mat­ter is con­cluded. Un­der the Shona cul­ture, lobola must be paid for a woman be­fore the mar­riage is ac­cept­able in the fam­ily and the so­ci­ety. In sce­nar­ios where lobola is not paid, par­ents and rel­a­tives of the bride wouldn’t al­low the par­ties to le­galise their mar­riage un­der the Mar­riage Act,” she said.

Ms Venge­sai said her ex­pe­ri­ences in pre­vi­ous mar­riages re­duced her to an ob­ject.

“I didn’t par­tic­i­pate in the peg­ging of the lobola price. I was never given a chance to ask for the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of the amounts which were paid. This whole sce­nario re­duced me to a prop­erty whereby a price tag was put on me by my un­cles and my hus­band paid. This de­mor­alised me and au­to­mat­i­cally sub­jected me to my hus­band’s con­trol since I would al­ways feel that I was pur­chased,” she said.

Ms Venge­sai said she was de­prived of an op­por­tu­nity to pay lobola to the hus­band’s par­ents on the grounds of gen­der equal­ity. She said lobola was now out­dated and it no longer serves any pur­pose in mod­ern so­ci­ety.

“The so­ci­ety for which lobola was en­vis­aged no longer ex­ists and the con­tin­ued use of the prac­tice in mod­ern in­dus­tri­alised so­ci­ety ex­ac­er­bates gen­der in­equities with­out pro­vid­ing the so­cial ben­e­fits tra­di­tion­ally associated with lobola. The pre-colo­nial com­mu­nity in which lobola orig­i­nated can’t be re­pro­duced in the cur­rent Zimbabwe,” said Ms Venge­sai.

Greedy par­ents were now abus­ing the prac­tice for un­jus­ti­fied en­rich­ment, ar­gued Ms Venge­sai.

“The orig­i­nal pur­pose and mean­ing of lobola has been fun­da­men­tally al­tered by the in­tro­duc­tion of a cash econ­omy in Zimbabwe, by ur­ban­i­sa­tion and by the break­through of agrar­ian com­mu­nal ties. As a re­sult, the orig­i­nal pur­poses of lobola have, in many cases, been sub­sumed by moths of greed and en­rich­ment on the part of the brides’ fam­i­lies. In a nut­shell, a woman is paid for sim­ply be­cause she is a woman and a hus­band pays for a wife be­cause he is a man. This amounts to dis­crim­i­na­tion based on gen­der and sex,” she said.

The Chief Jus­tice is ex­pected to first rule on whether or not the chal­lenge should di­rectly find its way to the apex court and be de­ter­mined by the nine-mem­ber bench.

How­ever, many still value the pay­ment of lobola and be­lieve it’s a nec­es­sary prac­tice in African cul­ture.

“Pay­ing lobola is ex­tremely im­por­tant be­cause it not only joins you and your spouse to­gether but your fam­i­lies and an­ces­tors as well. Lobola cre­ates strong bonds among fam­i­lies. It’s a prom­ise be­fore God. Back in the day, prom­ises be­fore God were not made in a church like is done to­day, they were done in the home with all nec­es­sary par­ties present,” said tra­di­tion­al­ist Mr David Muhab­hinyana Ng­wenya.

Turn­ing to the as­ser­tion that the pay­ment of lobola is a cat­a­lyst for gen­der based vi­o­lence in present day Zimbabwe, Mr Ng­wenya said the hus­band is the head of the home but that does not mean his wife is now his slave be­cause he paid lobola for her.

“Lobola is sim­ply the as­sur­ance that two fam­i­lies have met and wit­nessed the mar­riage of a man and a woman. Peo­ple need to first learn and un­der­stand what lobola and mar­riage it­self mean be­fore open­ing that chap­ter of their lives. They must not un­der­mine lobola and our cul­ture. Our cul­ture is what has kept us in­tact as a peo­ple,” said Mr Ng­wenya.

Zimbabwe is a sig­na­tory to the Con­ven­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of All Forms of Dis­crim­i­na­tion against

Two fam­i­lies join each other dur­ing a pay­ing cer­e­mony in this wire pic­ture

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