The Roman Catholic Church – while recognising the importance of lobola/roora/bride price – says greedy parents seeking to get rich by marrying off their daughters are threatening the institution of marriage.

In a pastoral letter on family last month, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference noted the abuse of the practice of paying lobola, which it said was becoming commercialised.

“There was a time when handing over ‘roora/bride price’ was meant to tie the two families together and deepen their friendship. Now it may become a commercial transaction. The father-in-law hopes that his son-in-law will save him out of his poverty.

“Since the son-in-law is poor himself (unemployed or underpaid), the couple decide to live in an informal union without any social sanction, let alone a church marriage. The union is highly unstable. It may easily break up. The woman ends up as a single mother, the children grow without a father,” the church said.

The letter is in-line with the principles of Pope Francis’ 166-page apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love”, a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by the head of the Catholic Church released in April 2016 following the Synods on the Family held in 2014 and 2015

The Pope’s position is being used by Catholic pastors to give guidance to married people, those yet to be married and those whose marriages are facing difficulties. The Zimbabwean Catholic leadership believes abuse of bride price is a major threat to marraiges.

ZCBC secretary-general Father Frederick Chiromba said, “The church respects culture and some of the traditional practices. What you highlight is the abuse of this otherwise good practice that brings families together, beyond the couple. The church equally condemns the abuse of lobola for self enrichment in place of its original purpose of establishing a relationship,” he said.

Men under Joshua’s Men Ministry, which is dedicated to moulding men with Christian principles, said some men were hard on their wives after paying high bride prices and being pressured into funding lavish wedding ceremonies and receptions.

“Lobola is now being used as a tool to take themselves (in-laws) out of poverty, a status symbol to demonstrate that the son-in-law is rich, our child is valuable because she is learned,” said agent who preferred to only be identified as Costa.

“This creates a sense of ownership on the man’s part rather than it being pure love, no strings attached. If I pay more I expect more. Most problems you face in future are because you didn’t deal with the root causes earlier on.

Blessing weighed in: “Because with the amounts being charged you think you will be buying a valuable asset but find out she cannot cook, clean the house or even satisfy you.”

Brian said it was cheaper to impregnate a woman so that her family would have no choice but let her get married, than doing things the right way and first asking the family for permission to marry and wed.

“I am not condoning fornication but customarily it’s now cheaper to jump from dating to impregnating the girl rather than propose marriage, wed and then start a family. But it’s good to do the right thing.”

Brian noted it was simpler to pay US$15 at the courts to formalise a marriage than to pay US$8 000 for lobola.

“This lobola practice where does it come into play when it comes to promoting, protecting, supporting and strengthening marriage and family values as compared to the Magistrates’ Courts?”

Said Richard, “In my understanding when you pay lobola you are establishing a relationship with the family. However this has become a money-making scheme and it’s destroying the importance of family. I have discovered that things are made easy for those who impregnate than those that want to pay lobola the right way. As Christians we should strive to create the right platforms which help establish proper relationships.”

Collin said, “I think when it comes to marriage, as Christians, sometimes the system complicates things because we lack understanding. We have a lot of borrowed cultures. For example, our girls want an engagement ring. Lobola sometimes is very high and men pay for almost everything for the wedding.

“We kept the lobola tradition and we adopted the white wedding culture. So I think if we want to follow these two cultures a man should pay the lobola and the bride should pay for the white wedding.”

According to Chief Musarurwa, the essence of lobola is to strengthen family ties.

“There is no standard on the price. What you have been charged by the father-in-law is what you pay,” he said.

An official at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts said it cost US$15 to formalise a marriage, with the figure covering a stamp, marriage officer and other paper work costs. Bishop Ishmael Mukuwanda of the Anglican Church also decried commercialisation of lobola.

“The first thing is lobola must be de-commercialised and return to its original purpose of being a token of appreciation. Marriage is creating relationships between families not individuals.

“In the West it is a relationship between the two, not families. As long as the families are not united, the community is not united and the church is not united.

If you go back to the original plan of lobola we will have good moral behaviour from the two individuals because infidelity will be reduced as the wife respects that lobola was paid for her; and the husband respects that he paid lobola.

“Infidelity is rising in churches because respect is no longer there. Respect was brought by the token of appreciation and unity of families henceforth. Commercialising lobola is not helping both in-laws because relationships will remain strained,” Bishop Mukuwanda said.

According to media reports between January and July 2015, 1 102 couples applied for divorce in Bulawayo and Harare alone. In the same period, 129 divorces were granted in Harare, while 44 were granted in Bulawayo. Couples seeking divorce rose from 96 to 157 per month between 2012 and 2015.