Zimbabwe’s marriage laws unveiled: Minister Ziyambi sets the record straight on lobola saga

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi

In a recent statement, Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi emphasized that lobola, the traditional bride price, continues to be a necessary condition for the registration of a customary marriage under the new Marriages Act.

However, it is not a requirement for the registration of a civil marriage, highlighting the distinction between the two types of unions.

The Marriages Act, which was enacted last year following the consolidation of laws governing civil and customary marriages, aims to streamline the marriage registration process in Zimbabwe. Minister Ziyambi’s clarification comes in response to media reports suggesting that lobola payments had become optional under the new law.

Traditionally, many Zimbabwean marriages begin with a customary union, which is often not registered, and are later formalized as civil unions. The new Marriages Act seeks to bridge the gap between these two types of marriages, enabling monogamous couples with registered customary unions to convert them into registered civil unions. This was not possible under the previous separate marriage acts.

Minister Ziyambi explained, “What the new Marriages Act did was to repeal all marriage laws; that is the Civil Marriages Act and the Customary Marriages Act,” Minister Ziyambi said.

“Under the Civil Marriages Act, which came with the whites, questions were not asked whether lobola was paid or not if the marriage was to be registered and this is still the case under the new law, if the union is to be registered as a civil marriage.”

However, for customary unions, the payment of lobola remains a crucial requirement. Marriage officers, including traditional leaders, who now have the authority to register such unions, are obligated to confirm whether lobola has been duly paid before proceeding with the registration process. Minister Ziyambi emphasized that lobola cannot be considered optional under the new law when it comes to customary marriages.

“For customary unions, payment of lobola still remains a requirement and marriage officers, who now include traditional leaders, registering such a union, still have to ascertain if lobola has been paid before it is registered. So, it’s not correct to say lobola is now optional under the new law.”

The issue of lobola sparked intense discussions during the parliamentary debates on the new Marriages Act. Chiefs in the Senate objected to a proposed clause that stated bride price should not serve as a barrier for consenting adults to enter into a union, as it would violate their constitutional right to association.

Traditional leaders, led by former Chiefs Council president Chief Fortune Charumbira, argued that lobola constituted an essential aspect of marriage within customary unions. They believed that disregarding lobola would undermine cultural values and traditions.

Ultimately, the concerns raised by the traditional leaders prevailed, resulting in the inclusion of a clause mandating marriage officers presiding over customary law marriages to inquire about the identities, marital status, lobola agreements, if any, and any impediments to the marriage.

The new Marriages Act seeks to strike a balance between the recognition of cultural practices and the modernization of marriage laws, ensuring that both civil and customary marriages are regulated effectively while preserving Zimbabwe’s rich cultural heritage.

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