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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lobola, curse or blessing?

This is an interesting article.

By Phyllis Kachere

LOBOLA, arguably the most cantankerous subject among the old, read in-laws, sons about to pay it, and daughters who could get someone to pay it in a jiffy.Before it became this highly commercialised, lobola was a system of cementing relationships within families. The amounts paid were nominal, almost symbolic. Of course, ridiculous heads of cattle (danga) paid were unheard of. The Bantu people living in what is now known as Zimbabwe revered cattle, but their lobola cattle demands (I am informed) remained consistent, depending on how many children the woman would give the man. The more children, the more cattle!The results showed in our mothers and grandmothers "spewing" children, some as many as 13, translating to 13 heads of cattle. The women would not have any say on how many children they would have or at what interval, and sometimes to their health’s risk. This is notwithstanding the quality of the bride! Virgins, non-virgins, one-child mothers, the more children, the more cattle paid! Talk of paying for the reproductive rights of women, while they remain onlookers while trading in their body parts (literally) takes centre stage.Those who advocate for lobola have maintained that it was a token of showing appreciation to the in-laws for a wonderful bride. But I maintain it was and still is a form of subjugation of women as payment of lobola would ensure that the woman would never be consulted on any family matter, including her sexual and reproductive rights. The man would simply issue instructions for the weaning of a toddler and subsequent pregnancy. She had and still has no say on the number of children she will bear.The very nature of lobola has ensured the exclusion of women to vital debates concerning their very core. Lobola negotiations are carried out by the male members of the family, while the women, including the bride and her mother, are just commodities and onlookers. The bride is only there to be paraded as a prized trophy.With the advent of multiple currencies and the suggested commercialisation of lobola, young men and women about to transact in lobola are crying foul.Not even the liquidity crunch facing Zimbabwe has stopped lobola transactions, payments of which are being done in the adopted multi-currencies.But what and who determines lobola? Some have argued it is the quality of the goods that determine the price. But in this highly patriarchal system we live in, are damaged goods spared? I am saying this at the risk of getting a backlash from avowed feminists whose fury I smell now!How much a "maiden" (read a virgin who has aborted three or four times and has been on oral contraception since 16) is worth, is determined by her clan.In some clans, the more educated she is, the more she will fetch on the market. More like bidding done at a cattle sales auction! For some, the bride price is determined by how much the groom is worth. A deep-pocketed groom is likely to be charged a high lobola, commensurate with his pockets, even when the bride carries no added value. Not even degreed!A mini survey on how much should be adequate for a first time lobola transaction, showed that any figure between US$2 500 and US$5 000 was acceptable."At least US$4 000 shows a sign for preparation for the big day for a childless woman. If it’s damaged goods with a string of offspring, then US$1 000 or so would be in order. This is taking into consideration that the groom will have the extra responsibility of looking after the woman’s children. But the main issue is that the groom has to pay the full price for purity, a full virgin should attract a higher lobola compared to a used womb."A customary lobola ceremony is not a thing you just wake up and say you are doing. There has to be evidence of planning to illustrate how serious the groom is. It takes time and resources to prepare for the day," said 25-year-old Martin Chishava, who himself is preparing to pay lobola in June. But for 50-year-old Dr Rudolf Chinganga, lobola should not be determined by whether the woman has children or not but should be determined by the value added to her."You surely don’t expect me to charge the same lobola for my doctorate daughter as a failed Ordinary Level candidate. The failed Ordinary Level candidate, like the name suggests, should attract a few hundred US dollars. She has no value added to her and she is worth those few hundreds of dollars. You cannot compare an engineer woman with a marry-me-and-feed-me. No ways," argued Dr Chinganga.From buying the reproductive rights of a woman to value addition, the things women have to endure!"I will not get someone to pay lobola for me. Why must someone, including my parents, be paid for me to get married? Am I a commodity to be traded to the highest bidder? This lobola business is responsible for all the woes befalling women. They are victims of domestic violence because their husbands claim that they hold exclusive rights to the behaviour and discipline of their women," said a defiant 21-year-old university student, Tariro Mushaninga.Indeed, payment of lobola has led to women enslavement as the men claim they paid for her subservience. So much about women's rights!l Feel you have something to add to this debate, get in touch on phyllis.kachere@zimpapers.co.zw or The Sunday Mail, PO Box 396, Harare or 04-795771 ext 1371, Tuesday to Saturdays.

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