Gender Gender

Exorbitant lobola leaves scars, leads to divorce

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
I AM always delighted to get feedback from my readers. It gives me the encouragement to go on writing about issues to do with gender, women and development because of the reassurance that someone out there is getting the message. So, this week I am running with an interview with a reader who wants to talk about how unreasonable lobola negotiations could have a negative impact on a couple’s relationship after marriage. My source of information is a marriage counsellor who shares that commodified brides often pay for the ‘sins’ of their parents in one way or the other. He walked into my office to share this narrative below.
Dear Emelda,
I have an idea for Gender Focus which you could share with your readers. I am a church elder and marriage counsellor with some few thoughts that I would like to share concerning lobola and marriage.
The idea is to advise parents to be fair in their demands for lobola because when a groom is overcharged, he will definitely react in some way. Although parents who have commercialised bride price do so out of selfish interests, little do they know that their daughters may suffer the consequences when the dust seems to have settled. Gender-based violence and all forms of abuse that women suffer in marriage are occasioned by sour grapes from a bitter lobola negotiation process.
One particular case I would like to share is that of a couple that extorted K50,000 from their son-in-law in the form of lobola. This young man had expressed interest to marry a school-leaver against the wishes of her parents, who wanted her to pursue tertiary education prior to marriage. But the groom insisted on marrying the girl with the promise that he would sponsor her into college after the wedding.
When marriage negotiations started, the girl’s parents sprang up a surprise by demanding K50,000 or US$5,000 as bride price. In my view, the couple wanted to scare off their unwelcome son-in-law, but he was undeterred by the marriage ‘fee’. However, the groom’s family tried a number of times to negotiate for a fair deal, but the bride’s parents adamantly declared that ‘it is K50,000, take it or leave it’.
Apparently, the groom loved his bride too much to give up, so he grudgingly accepted to pay the required amount. Surprisingly, his love for her would later turn into hatred.
The young man surprised his family when he opted to bow to the demands of his in-laws and started saving money for his wife-to-be’s bride price.
When he raised a reasonable amount, his emissaries approached the in-laws to make a down payment with a promise that he would pay the balance after the wedding.
Again a shock awaited the groom – his in-laws refused to give their daughter on ‘credit’. The young man was devastated when the negotiating team brought the bad news that ‘it was K50,000 in full or no wedding at all’.
Again, the groom did not back-off as he somehow managed to raise the K50, 000 for lobola and wed his dream woman. After that, the couple enjoyed a blissful marriage life but only for a short while. The young man was greatly bothered by the mistreatment from his parents-in-law during lobola negotiations, and oblivious to his wife, he endured the pain quietly. Eventually the bottled-up emotions erupted and the young man started mistreating his wife. I can’t go in detail except to say that the woman was abused physically and emotionally. But she had no idea why her husband had turned into a monster
We later learnt that the young man was venting his anger against his parents-in-law on his wife. To cut a long story short, at that point, the couple reconciled but only for a short time. As I speak, they have divorced.
I would like to urge my fellow parents to be reasonable with their demands for lobola because greed tends to sow a bad seed in the relationship of the two families. It is also wrong to fix someone you don’t like by overcharging him on lobola. It’s better to turn down an unwanted son-in-law than fix him with irrational demands.
My stance on lobola has always been that no parent should quote a commercialised rate. It’s immoral to put a price tag on your daughter and expect a man to pay back what you have invested in her upbringing. The investments we make in raising our children – material, moral, emotional, financial – are simply priceless or rather have no market value. It’s something you can’t quantify in monetary terms and no man can give you back the love, time and other investments that go into raising a child. If I may ask, why would a parent quantify their daughter’s worth as though marrying her off is the same as selling her?
In my ideal world, lobola should just be a token of appreciation by a groom to his parents-in-law. The groom should decide what to give and the value of the gift. Commodifying one’s daughter in the name of lobola not only degrades her, but also makes her vulnerable to all sorts of abuse from her spouse and in-laws.
It’s sad that the young man in Caesar’s narrative opted to punish his innocent wife for the wrongs of her parents. It would have been better for him to opt out during courtship if he couldn’t put up with his in-laws’ unreasonable behavior.
I think couples who truly love each other should stand together against parents who want to create a rift in their relationship through bride price and many other things. What I know is that true love always wins, no matter the amount of opposition from parents and other relatives.
Email: emeldashonga@ Phone: 0211-221364/227794

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