Marriage Bill under scrutiny . . . lobola remains integral part of culture
IN 1982, the Legal Age of Majority Act was passed into law, giving women majority status, meaning that once a woman reached 18 years old, she would be considered an adult with the independence to exercise her rights, including rights to marriage and acquiring property, among others.
Previously, Zimbabwean women were considered minors both legally and culturally and needed the assistance of a guardian, often times their father or husband, to access any rights and to make decisions.
In 1984, the Supreme Court in the case of Katekwe vs. Muchabaiwa, explained that women were completely emancipated, meaning they no longer legally required the assistance of a guardian in the exercise of their human rights.
Last week, however, there was confusion when the new Marriage Bill was made public as people interpreted it differently.
According to the new Bill, the law would do away with the need for a marriage officer to demand proof of dowry, lobola or roora payment if a marriage was to be registered, a requirement which the current law demands before legally solemnising two adults’ matrimonial union.
Varying sections of society viewed this differently, with most arguing that the traditional practice of roora had been abolished by the government.
However, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi clarified people’s fears, stating that there was no abolition of lobola.
“The groom is still required to pay the bride price to the bride’s family as has been happening all along. It is only that when registering a customary union, the marriage officer is no longer required to satisfy himself that the bride price has been paid,” he said .
Women and girls’ rights activist Nyaradzo Mashayamombe told the Daily News on Sunday that the Marriage Bill is progressive in as much as listening to concerns raised in previous consultation meetings.
She said since roora is a traditional practice, the law in Zimbabwe could never seek to police, but put measures in place to protect those who may be taken advantage of during customary marriage.
The Tag a Life director said those who owe roora should pay off and those who want to enter into customary marriages should also go ahead.
“Fundamentally speaking, a marriage is being entered into by two consenting adults and as long as they are over 18 years, they can choose whether or not to pay roora.
“Previously, the law said that for your marriage to be recognised as a customary union, you could not register it without having paid roora.
“But no what it is saying is, it is relaxing the roora in that the two consenting adults can just register their union without the man paying roora for his bride. It is not prescribing that the whole roora is abolished,” she said.
“Roora has been misunderstood and used as an abuse tool by many in order for them to ill-treat their spouse under the ill-conceived notion that they are now their possession since they paid a bride price.
“There were many people who were customarily married who are respected members of society and that is what it should be. There can never be a price for a human being regardless of how much is offered,” Mashayamombe said.
She added that as a Zimbabwean she believes in the practice and respects those who enter into their marriages the roora way, while also not taking away from those who may not want it.
Christian Impact Centre and The Marriage Centre co-founder Gwen Kanokanga said there was nothing wrong with the practice of roora in today’s society.
The marriage counsellor said instead roora should be upheld and respected as it was an integral part of culture and a rite of passage into marriage.
She said it was important to respect the formality of roora process as it showed that both parents of the bride and groom had accepted each other.
“You cannot have a customary marriage without roora as it is one of the requirements. You have to involve parents from both sides of the family and it would be difficult to involve the families in any union unless the process was done.
“The only wrong thing about it is when people start commercialising it,” Kanokanga said.
Social commentator Precious Shumba said roora was paramount and not in the same context as buying a commodity or item in the market place, but as a kind of compensation that the woman and her future offsprings have been taken away from the parents’ house to another family.
Shumba said it was also seen as compensation for the loss of household labour and most significantly roora served to tie the bond between two families by exchanging items initially before cementing the bond through dowry payment to the family of the bride.
He emphasised that the mother of the bride is compensated for giving birth to a daughter, and the groom’s family is paying as recognition of the importance of the mother, making it a significant component of Zimbabwean culture.
“It was during the colonial era that payments for roora was converted into cash because of the cash economy that colonisation brought. So, families would opt to convert some items to cash, but on a tokenism approach, not for benefit, by symbolising the official exchange.
“This has, however, changed with post-independence when some families have taken advantage of their girl children to commercialise roora,” Shumba said.
“Irrespective of the commercialisation, roora payment remains the official cultural practice among the majority Shona people.
“I am not sure how the Ndebeles or Tongas do it, but I am sure they have process of roora negotiations that eventually leads to the authorisation of the man and the woman to live together as husband and wife, doing everything that consenting adults would do in the full knowledge of their families. It is up to the families concerned to set the roora. It is not illegal, but our culture,” Shumba said.
Traditionalist Godfrey Mwerenga said roora is an important part of Zimbabwean culture, tradition and identity which should not be lost to Western customs and practices.
He said the idea behind roora was not to ‘sell’ the woman to her suitor’s family, but was more of a token to the bride’s family for raising her well and allowing them to take her as a wife.
Mwerenga said in the olden times, roora was paid through items such as hoes, ploughs and axes, but tradition had been overtaken by need for money, which is now causing problems in the whole process.
“Paying roora is a custom that should be held in high esteem as it preserves our culture and what we stand for as Zimbabweans. By trying to westernise and incorporate circular practices, we lose our identity as a people.
“Now that people are demanding huge sums for roora, they are commodifying their daughters and this results in problems in the marriage where the girls are now being abused as the man feels he has bought her.
“The only way to resolve this is to ensure that we stop making roora a transaction and revert back to what it was before money was introduced into the mix,” he said.