……..imagining a lobolaless society

  • Posted on: 10 December 2016
  • By: tony

In the African context lobola serves as a sign and token of appreciation from the man to his wife’s family. It’s a form of a thank you to in-laws for raising and grooming his wife whom in future shall bear children in his name. That’s basically the idea of lobola. The gesture is a way of cementing relations amongst families and nothing transactional should be attached to that.

This lobola subject has become an issue from time immemorial because it has been misconstrued within families. During courtship, in some instances, the level of verbal and emotional abuse from the man would probably be less because he feels  he has not yet fulfilled the marriage rite and nothing material authorizes him to chastise his partner either verbally or physically but as soon as all  the lobola procedures  are  fulfilled, that’s usually where the turmoil  begins. Payment of lobola does not mean that she suddenly becomes family property or subject to all kinds of abuse because money and cattle were given to her parents. It does not mean that all!

Unfortunately, this is a big problem in our society. Lobola is not being taken as a natural way of strengthening relations and ends there but it has become more like a leeway to ill-treatment, blackmailing and imposing on the woman simply because bride price was paid for her.

I feel that if paying lobola wasn’t the norm in our culture, maybe things could have been different and the levels of abuse could be lower as well. I am not saying abuse of the woman in her matrimonial home is entirely centered around the payment of lobola, but, in most instances, the woman falls prey to all kinds of abuses from the husband and the immediate in-laws because of the notion that she was somehow ‘bought’: when you buy something, it becomes your property to do whatever you want with it. In that regard, the husband and his entire family feel they have the right over the wife because of the money and the cattle which went to her family.

This is happening and sometimes it’s not overtly spelt out, but the attitude around the matter confirms that the woman is no longer considered nor her feelings  regarded for that reason that her parents were ‘paid’ for her hand in marriage. In some families, the wife even loses respect and can be forced to succumb to things against her wish: for example, she can be forced to go rural areas and toil in the fields with the husband’s parents because there is this feeling that that she is within their ownership because she was ‘paid for’ and therefore should work for the money given to her parents.

I am not saying offering services and being resourceful in your matrimonial home is a sign of abuse, but it should be done willingly, not under blackmail and intimidation that lobola was paid for you!  I once heard a man saying to his wife, ‘ shamwari chitoita zvandakuudza, ndabva mukutinha mombe kuna baba vako’, meaning that you ought to do whatever I tell you because I have just given your father many cows, which is unfair because getting married and lobola being paid to your parents does not nullify the woman’s right to choose.

The culture of paying lobola is one of the factors which have perpetuated GBV and this system has passed on to generations.  I am imagining a lobolaless society where it only takes the two to tangle without having to go through these seemingly transactional formalities. In that case, it would mean that men and women would be at the same level, and room for abuse would be less as there would be no sense of possession especially from the man’s side. Even the in-laws would treat the daughter in-law from a different perspective, appreciating that she has simply joined their family as a result of the love between their son and her and the story ends there. There would be new respect amongst in-laws and probably men would not have that drive to abuse their partners in the name of lobola and there wouldn’t be that constant ‘remember I bought you’ kind of attitude.

I envisage a lobolaless society where a woman does not have to undergo emotional blackmail, or forced to succumb to whatever is imposed on her under the pretext that she has to work and compensate for the cows which went to her parents. She should not feel indebted to her husband’s family but marriage should just be natural, where the two should just enjoy with free minds without the woman feeling a sense of owing to the other part.

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