This past weekend, my friend made the long journey to some rural area in the province of Masvingo to marry his long time sweetheart. The initial plan was to marry in November, but the event had to be postponed at the behest of the elders. They argued that our culture forbids any social events or gatherings in November, the month of goats as they say. For someone who couldn’t wait to be a husband, he made sure that the ceremony was rescheduled to the first weekend of December. He was really excited and so was the girl. The enthusiasm was understandable; after several years of seeing each other while hiding behind bushes, the two would soon be officially husband and wife. It was all smiles!
The greater part of November was used for preparations for the big day. He made sure that the small Toyota Corolla vehicle that was to be used by the travelling team underwent service at the local garage. He also purchased trolleys and trolleys of groceries requested by the in-laws as part of the lobola package. A new immaculate suit, nice shirt and matching tie were also bought for that all- important first impression.
Although he had pleaded with me to be part of the negotiating team, I couldn’t make it to travel to Masvingo as I had to attend my daughter’s graduation party at the local Pre-School. I thought it was important to put family first. I however gave assurance that I would be with him in prayers; praying for safe travel and a successful event, particularly good understanding of the in-laws during negotiations. I also promised to keep in touch so that I could get constant updates from the travelling team. With improvements in cellphone reception, it is now possible to catch the phone signal even in the remotest parts of the country. “I will call you to check on progress,” I promised him.
Around 5pm on Saturday, I thought the time was ripe to get an update from Masvingo. The event had started at 2pm, so three hours into the ceremony; it was safe time to check on the proceedings. I picked my phone and called. To say I was stunned is an understatement. I was thunderstruck! The in-laws had charged him US$15,000 to be paid in cash. On top of that he needed to bring eleven beasts, ten for the father and one for the mother of the bride. As if this was not too much already, a long list of clothing requirements for the parents of the bride was also drawn. To make matters worse, the in-laws insisted that at least half of the cash amount be paid before they could release the girl to her husband’s house. Outrageous!
From the tone of his voice, I could tell that my friend was in deep disappointment. All the excitement had quickly gone down like a candle fire doused by a glass of water. The $3,000 that he had taken with him to the in-laws was not even a quarter for the required cash amount. He needed to come back and work even harder just to meet the requirements of his in-laws.
For a while I sat down, wondering what is really happening with our culture. Is all this money that is being charged necessary? And, are we not commercialising lobola in the name of culture.
Some enquiries with the girl’s aunt revealed that the bride price had to be high as the in-laws had considered that they spent a fortune educating their daughter from primary school through university. But there is nothing special about being a graduate in Zimbabwe anymore. With its literacy rate standing at over 90%, Zimbabwe has so many graduates that many of them are roaming the streets. So that definitely cannot be an excuse for charging through the ceiling prices.
Lobola should just be a small token of appreciation. In the old days, the in-laws would require a small token like a hoe before giving their daughter’s hand in marriage. Importance should be placed on the formalisation of the union and getting blessings from the parents of both the man and the woman. All this business of charging thousands of dollars is premised on greed. The danger is that the man will feel that he bought the woman, what after paying thousands of dollars to take her from her father’s house. With such thoughts there is danger that the woman will suffer abuse as the man will think that he owns the woman. The husband will not want to be challenged and the woman will have little or no say in the house.
Society really needs to think again about lobola. Yes, we may be excited that our daughters and sisters and going for a high price which makes them look valuable and can be reason for pride in the community. But are we not the same time creating a situation where the woman will be an unequal partner in marriage? When thousands of dollars have changed hands, it is inevitable for the man to think that he owns the woman and to demand total compliance from his wife. This can be a cause for serious misunderstandings and constant fights.
Women continue to suffer domestic violence and it is not wide of the mark to blame commercialization of lobola for the treatment of women as unequal partners in marriage. It is either lobola is abolished or it’s set at reasonable levels so that men will not think that they own their wives. If we continue with this trend of top of the ceiling lobola charges, women may continue to suffer in relationships while their parents fatten their pockets from rich lobola pickings.