In an era where conversations around equality and feminism continue to evolve, debate on lobola and African artiulation of a feminist consciousness continues to build, illuminating the role this age old custom plays – and has played – in positioning African women’s rights. My identification as a feminist compels me to throw my weight into this argument, not simply because of the importance of the topic, but because it affects me too as a young feminist who has marriage as part of her wish list.
From my reading, conversations around gender equality seem to constantly be calling for lobola’s abolishment as a practice that exploits and commodifies women. For instance, writing for Her Zimbabwe some time ago, Keith Mundangepfupfu expressed his disgust over modern lobola pointing out that in his opinion, it has been commerciliased and no longer symbolises unity between two families. But while he makes valid points, I do not feel that lobola is the problem. In fact, I doubt it has ever been the problem, the issue instead resting with individuals ready to abuse it; individuals who see their daughters as cash cows and a ‘get rich’ quick avenue.
The problem also lies with men who look at lobola as the purchase of a woman and her ‘services’, whatever those are. It lies with women who consider themselves obligated to certain behaviours that demean their individuality because a man has cemented his love through dowry. In short, the problem lies with a modern society that pretends it wants to ‘uphold’ our traditions by manipulating a process that is meant to cultivate a relationship between two families.
I want a loboal ceremony
But still, with all these arguments against the practice, I want my future husband to go through the lobola process for me. Being the self-assured feminist that I am, I am certain that the kind of man who should marry me would be the kind who has respect and love for me, and the family I come from. Therefore, I want him and his family to send a munyayi to my family to ask for ‘sadza’. I want him to adhere to the grocery list that my family will draft for the marriage ceremony. I want the visitors to pfunya chisero on a nice mat while my family lounges on the couches. They should call me and ask me if I know ‘these people’. I want to enjoy being identified among my sisters as the young woman they have come to marry, and my parents should be blessed with zvireverere zva Mai na Baba.
I want the mbudzi yedare to bleat in our backyard as my future husband prepares it for consumption. I want to receive gifts for myself, my sisters and my tete, and for the rusambo, danga and majasi to be unforgettable aspects of the ceremony. The most important part will, however, be when my husband is welcomed into our family because he would have shown great commitment by making this ceremony an important part of our marital union.
Then, we will drink and make merry.
The issue is not lobola
I do not wish to see lobola banished.
It is bigger than individuals with perverted minds and faulty character traits. Even if it were to be abolished, I believe that an abusive individual who uses the “I paid lobola” excuse would still find another reason to be abusive. And greedy families would find other means to siphon money out of marital homes.
Perhaps, the real issue is that modern society needs regulators – and regulations – for a more ethical conduct of lobola; say, a cultural regulatory body that will ensure that the process is not abused. And maybe there is a need for that body to come up with acceptable lobola ‘charges’. I would also task this body with coming up with a different word for ‘damages’, that demeaning word used when a woman gets pregnant before lobola. I find it a devaluation of a woman’s worth as she is just pregnant, not damaged.
Communication within families is also key to ensuring that lobola is not reduced to a human auction. We young women should confide in the people we trust to talk to our parents and ask them not to appear greedy by implying they are selling us off. We should also ask them to consider that by overcharging their future in-laws, that they may be contributing to a future of potential poverty for their grandchildren. With all this said, I still feel that lobola needs to get the respect it deserves and look forward to participating in the many traditions and processes that it encompasses.
I want lobola as a central part of my marriage.
Main image shared from www.singleblackmale.org