Why Bride Price/Lobola Should Be Abolished: The Root Of Wife Abuse In Africa

Last week I wrote an article about the rampant abuse of daughters-in-law by their in-laws in Zimbabwe, other African countries as well as Asian countries. Most of my readers responded by highlighting that the abuse was mainly fuelled by the practice of Lobola especially in Zimbabwean culture.  The contributions from my readers were quite thought-provoking for me, and I set myself to study more on the subject and write my opinion on it.

The practice of bride price, commonly known as lobola in Zimbabwe is when a woman’s family puts a value/price on their daughter’s worth, asking for a certain amount of money and or cows to be paid by the groom as the pledge for marriage. This practice seems to have evolved into extremism over the years, and now families are even charging more money for their daughters if they come from a well off family or are highly educated ie have a degree. The whole practice is now more like selling your daughter, and it’s a fair argument that this practice contributes to some men treating their wives as property as they would argue that they “paid a lot of money” for them.

In Zimbabwe, examples of extreme cases of publicized lobola payments are that of  Pokello Nare and Olinda Chapel Chidemo. Ghanian Elikem Kumordzi boasted that he had paid a staggering $25 000 for Pokello, whilst hip hop rapper Stunner boasted to have paid $16 000 bride price for Olinda Chapel. Such marriages in Zimbabwe seem to set the standards too high for the average man in Zimbabwe, which is now one the poorest countries in the world. A lot of men simply can not afford some of the unrealistic bRride prices charged by families, I have often read of men walking out of traditional marriage ceremonies because they would have been charged too much money.

What is also interesting to note is that in lobola cases of women like Pokello and Olinda, it is more likely that these successful businesswomen actually paid for their own lobola as they evidently earn a lot more than their “husbands”. In fact, according to Olinda, her rapper husband stunner could not even afford to pay rent or buy a headboard, how then did he pay the $16 000 lobola for her? It is now a common trend, especially among women who live in the United Kingdom or abroad, who are financially successful to pay for their own lobola. They simply give the man, normally a younger guy the money for their own bride price.

This is sadly putting a lot of pressure for lobola prices to rise in Zimbabwe, affecting the poor men who are seeking genuine marriages but are not able to afford the lobola.

Uganda has also had this cultural problem rise in recent years, where lobola is reported to be contributing to wife abuse, as men are also charged high unrealistic prices. Women Rights activists in Uganda have tried to get the lobola customarily law abolished, but sadly failed as this practice is very favored especially in the rural areas.

African women, especially majority of Zimbabwean women seem to be in favor of lobola practice. Sometimes they like to boast among their friends about how much their husbands paid for them. They take pride in having a high value, which adds to their social status. The more money your husband pays for you, the more the woman feels highly valuable. I feel Zimbabwean women themselves need to be freed from this primitive thinking. Marriage is supposed to be about partnership and love. Love itself is not worth any money. It’s free. A man is supposed to love you for who you are, not for how much he paid for you.

A man can prove his love to you by a gesture of a gift, such as an engagement ring that you wear for the rest of your life/marriage, not by paying your parents a huge lump sum. As for me, I would not want to be paid for my daughters, I just want them to experience true love and just be happy. I do not wish to gain financially from them, they are not property. I know its culture, but sometimes culture is uncivilized and oppressive.

I have to say not all African countries abuse the practice of lobola/bride price. In Ghana lobola is simply a token or gift to the bride’s family. A man simply brings gifts to the woman’s family, there is no charge, there is no value of the bride. A man can even pay as little as 20 cedis as a gesture of his appreciation of his bride. For me, that’s the true meaning of lobola.

I do hope that in Zimbabwe awareness about the effects of lobola can be raised to parliament level. A lot of women have been abused by their husbands and mothers-in-law simply because of the money which had been paid for them. Of course, not all abuse is caused by lobola, but it does contribute a lot to the abuse of women in marriages. Though it will be very difficult to abolish the lobola practice as it is widely favored especially by women, raising awareness on the oppressive practice could be enough to bring about a revolution and positive change. Families could start by choosing not to sell their daughters for a price.

And it would also help if successful women stop paying for their own pride price, raising unnecessary unrealistic standards. Women are now buying marriages just to be called “wife”, which is a fulfillment of the scripture in Isaiah 4:1 “And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.”

If I ruled this world, I would abolish the practice of lobola altogether. It does more harm than good. No woman should ever buy herself or be bought at a price by a man. How different is that from the concept of slavery?

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