In a recent announcement, Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi underscored the continued significance of lobola, the traditional bride price, as a prerequisite for the registration of customary marriages under the newly enacted Marriages Act. Minister Ziyambi clarified that while lobola remains mandatory for customary marriages, it is not a requirement for the registration of civil marriages, highlighting a clear distinction between the two marital frameworks.
The Marriages Act, implemented last year to consolidate laws governing civil and customary unions, aims to streamline the marriage registration process in Zimbabwe. Minister Ziyambi’s clarification was prompted by media reports suggesting that lobola payments had become optional under the new legislation.
Traditionally, many Zimbabwean couples initiate their unions with a customary ceremony, often left unregistered, later formalizing their marriages through civil procedures. The new Marriages Act seeks to bridge this gap, allowing monogamous couples with registered customary unions to convert them into civil unions, a capability unavailable under previous legislation.
Explaining the legislative changes, Minister Ziyambi stated, “What the new Marriages Act did was to repeal all marriage laws; that is the Civil Marriages Act and the Customary Marriages Act.” He emphasized that under the Civil Marriages Act, questions about lobola payment were not raised, a practice that continues under the new law for the registration of civil marriages.
However, for customary unions, lobola remains a pivotal requirement. Marriage officers, including traditional leaders with newfound authority to register such unions, are obligated to verify lobola payment before proceeding with the registration process. Minister Ziyambi stressed that lobola is non-negotiable under the new law when it comes to customary marriages.
The contentious issue of lobola sparked heated debates during parliamentary discussions on the Marriages Act. Chiefs in the Senate opposed a proposed clause stating that bride price should not impede consenting adults from entering a union, asserting that it violated their constitutional right to association. Traditional leaders, led by former Chiefs Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira, argued that lobola was integral to customary unions, emphasizing its importance in preserving cultural values.
Ultimately, the concerns of traditional leaders prevailed, leading to the inclusion of a clause mandating marriage officers overseeing customary law marriages to inquire about identities, marital status, lobola agreements, and any impediments to the marriage.
The new Marriages Act seeks to strike a balance between recognizing cultural practices and modernizing marriage laws, ensuring effective regulation of both civil and customary marriages while preserving Zimbabwe’s rich cultural heritage.
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