Zimbabwe: Commercialisation of lobola, a double-edged sword for women

By Pride Nleya – The increase in marriage failures and abuse of women has been attributed to exorbitant amounts of money being charged as lobola, a cross section of Zimbabweans has said.

In an interview with this reporter, many people said lobola had lost its cultural significance owing to its commercialization.

Amai Mwale an elderly woman from Glenview 7 compared the old practice of lobola and what is being done nowadays saying, “In Zimbabwe lobola has gone through a radical transformation whereby it has changed from being a simple cultural practice into a high business venture and this has affected women both positively and negatively.

“Bitter husbands no longer treat their in-laws with respect as in the past since their relationship has been poisoned by the commercialized nature of the lobola process,” added Mwale.

Dudzai Nhondova (38) from Chiredzi revealed her perspective saying that economic melt-down and the ensuing of the multi-currency era really saw acceleration in the commercialisation of lobola and this has brought negative impact on women.

“Some families are now charging very high bride price so as to start some business hence they have turned this cultural practice to raising capital “And this has some great impact on the woman because some are now just forced to marry a man simply because of his riches and this will lead to gender based violence since there will be no love between the two,” said Nhondova.

Mercy Ziso a street vendor in the capital registered her worries saying, “Lobola has lost its traditional, cultural meaning of uniting
two families and has become a money making endeavor.

“Many women out there are being abused by their husbands out of bitterness for the huge amounts of money that they paid to their
in-laws for lobola,” Ziso added. Portia Sibanda from Domboshava postulated that conjugal rights are central in all marriages thus men think that conjugal rights are purchased through the payment of lobola.

“Sexual rights should be negotiated and not controlled by one person based on the amount of money paid as lobola but these days men insist that they have the right to make all decisions to do with sex and in some instances go as far as forcing their wives into intercourse,” added Sibanda.

Melusi Bhema who is in his late twenties concurred that lobola had lost its cultural significance attached due to the commercialization of marriages.

“Many women face marital rape but they cannot report because it is socially accepted and it is difficult to press charges when the
husband has paid a large sum of money in lobola

“Control over sex by men does not only infringe women’s rights but however exposes them to HIV infection because it is not possible for married women to negotiate for safe sex,” she added.

A bitter lady who spoke on the condition of anonymity registered her worries saying that she has lived a life of abuse almost daily in her marriage.  “My husband speaks to me in a harsh tone, he bashes me and when I make efforts to tell my aunties they tell me to endure because my family will not have any means of reimbursing the lobola, so I am now forced to protect the interests of my parents,” said the lady.

Nokulunga Masuku, a young lady from Harare revealed that she does not see anything wrong by paying large amounts of lobola despite the many challenges women are facing as a result of the commercialization of lobola.

“If a woman has value, then real money has to be paid and this kind of commitment bestows value on the woman who is being paid for,” said Masuku.

Lizzy Mutoda concurred with Masuku saying that payment of lobola reflects that the groom and his family are committed to the marriage.

“Payment of high bride price confer a higher status on the bride and reflect the value the husband places on the marriage.” added Mutoda.