Tsvangirai and Locadia: Foes or victims?

Activism, Gender, Violence Against Women, Women, Zimbabwe

For the past week, local news has been buzzing with the ‘bizarre’ things that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has been doing in his personal life. It is alleged that in November 2011, Tsvangirai paid $US36 000 lobola/roora/bride price for one Locadia Karimatsenga and dumped her barely a week after. Tsvangirai denies marrying the woman and claims he only paid damages as he believed he had made her pregnant.

In Zimbabwean culture, when a man impregnates a woman he has three choices. First, he can marry the woman by paying the lobola, entering  into what is known as an unregistered customary law union which he can then ‘upgrade’ into a registered customary marriage [Chapter 5:07], or a registered civil marriage [Chapter 5:11],  popularly known as the Chapter 37 marriage. Secondly, a man can refuse to marry the woman, but acknowledge the wrong done and pay a token of shame and apology known as dhemeji (damages). However, in paying these damages,the elements that are observed in paying lobola are not observed. Hence, damages are not the equivalent of paying lobola. The third option is one that many men have chosen to the detriment of many women’s lives, that of refuting responsibility and running at the speed of a bullet away from the woman and the baby.

It is not clear which option Prime Minister Tsvangirai chose in his relationship with Locadia and now the High Court has been tasked to decide. The hullabaloo in the press has been precipitated by Tsvangirai’s marriage to his new belle, Elizabeth Macheka whom he married customarily, and now wants to tie the knot with in a civil marriage. Locadia, with whom Tsvangirai is either in an unregistered customary law union, or just paid damages for, has taken him to Court. She argues that he married her, that their unregistered customary law union is valid, and that has not gone through the requisite customary rites of divorce, ordinarily observed through the payment of money/livestock known as gupuro.

Although the majority of comments have focused on either castigating Tsvangirai for being a double headed snake – tsukukuviri – in marrying one woman, divorcing her, and immediately marrying another, or on ridiculing  Locadia for being desperate and refusing to accept that Tsvangirai does not want her for a wife, the importance of this saga lies in its exposure of the chaos that is Zimbabwe’s marriage regime.

A few months ago, prospective brides and grooms had their plans to begin enjoying marital bliss thwarted when the Registrar-General (R-G) suspended all marriages in order to implement a new marriage system. The R-G’s actions were inspired by his realisation that there were many men committing bigamy, the crime of being illegally married to two people.

The R-G’s efforts clearly did not change much. Zimbabwe still has 3 recognised marriages: the unregistered customary law union (where a man pays lobola to a woman’s family and from then on the two are considered married), the registered customary marriage (where a man and a woman do the lobola but are then married in court and the man is still legally permitted to have more than one wife), and the civil marriage (the one man-one woman type). As the Tsvangirai case proves, the fact that these different marriages are allowed remains a problem. That problem is worsened by the fact that these marriages do not have equal weight before the law; they do not give the partners equal rights within and outside the marriage. For instance, under the unregistered customary law union, a man can divorce his wife willy nilly by simply paying gupuro, and chasing her out of his house, while under the civil marriage, if he wants to divorce her, then he has to convince the court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down. In the two customary marriages, the man can have more than one wife leading to multiple partners, a dangerous factor in today’s HIV/AIDS ridden Zimbabwe.

Women face huge disadvantages because only the man has the prerogative to ‘upgrade’ the marriage. Picture this- In rural Zimbabwe, Robert marries Sarah by paying lobola. They live together, farming for more than 10 years as man and wife, acquire property in town, and amass huge sums of wealth. Robert moves to the big city to manage their business and properties, while Sarah farms in their rural home. After 10 years, Robert meets Precious, a young, sexy urbanite. He pays lobola for her and immediately Precious pushes for a wedding. Robert agrees and off he goes with Precious to the Magistrates Court at Rotten Row. Precious, being the devious person she is, pushes Robert to register all properties (that Robert and Sarah bought) in both their names (Precious and Robert’s names). Robert agrees. Precious then sues Sarah for adultery, accusing Sarah of having an affair with her husband. She actually succeeds, and Sarah loses out on everything she ever worked for.

This is the reality of Zimbabwe’s marriage laws and the impact they have. Locadia is laying a claim believing she is in a valid marriage with Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai married Elizabeth believing his arrangement with Locadia does not constitute a valid marriage. If we had one marriage regime these uncertaintieis would not exist. In the end should the two be enemies or both are just victims of a chaotic system. The marriage system is a mess and needs cleaning up sooner rather than later.

18 thoughts on “Tsvangirai and Locadia: Foes or victims?

  1. These are the issues that women need to make a lot of noise about. Start a petition NOW!!! I learned in Law school that over 60% of marriages in Zimbabwe fall under the “unregistered customary union” type. Surely if our society perceives payment of lobola and the rest of the cultural rites is more important than kuenda kwaMudzviti or kwaMakandiwa kunochatiswa then this type of marriage should supecede all other forms of marriage. Is it not a fact that if I meet Maidei at Kingdom Bank and we decide to get married kuRotten Row pasina pfuma yakaenda kumba kwaanaMaidei society frowns BIG TIME at this marriage? In fact we will be considered as vanhu vari kubika mapoto or vanhu vakabatira chirungu pamusoro. When I got married in Church, the first question my minister raised was whether I had perfomed the customary rites, “wakabisa pfuma here, wakabvumirwa muchato naanatezvara here?” Even those in the church (or is is some churches) expect you to marry “properly”. 2Tanga wabisa pfuma usati wauya kuti tizokuchatisa”, so most church ministers will say. Saka why is it that the law is at variance with “our” culture?

  2. Whether customarily or civilly married one can still have a small house osiya the civil married one in the house. I know one old guy who left his wife ku Malborough to stay in Budiriro with another woman cause she made him happier than the one he was civilly married to.

    I just think laws are there but its all about the relationship between the men and the woman. If the relationship is good or bad it doesnt matter what kind of marriage you are in . So people lets concentrate on our marriage relationships and less on the laws Thats the only way the marriage will be fair to all parties involved

  3. From where i stand as an ordinary Zimbo woman it does not sit well with me that one can be granted a marriage licence by law while married to another by custom. Yet we make noise to high heavens about sovereignty and the preservation of our culture. The same culture in whose name we rape girls, beat women to near death and so many other evils – that same culture that is used to justify so much of women and girls pain and oppression – this culture so strong and oh so unpenetrable – it cannot even hold a marriage it sanctions as binding before men and God. Where are the traditional chiefs? Why are they quiet these custodians of our culture? Why are the Mai Gunguwos, the tetes, gogos and mothers who fight so hard for us to pull our labia and preserve other cultural things not make noise about how this system we have hold customary marriage rites in such low esteem. Let me stop here, lol. There is more going on in my head, believe me. Thanks for the brilliant piece, you nailed it!

    1. I like the point you raise Tino about how everything ‘customary’ read ‘oppressive of women’ is valued and given priority except for the ‘customary marriage’ when women seek protection within it. Why is it considered upgrading when one moves from a customary marriage into a civil marriage when it is fact that the majority of women only marry customarily and do not have the means (financial) and persuasion to convince the man to agree to ‘upgrade’ their marriage? Yet when the same women whom the RG is not protecting within their customary marriages then ‘upgrade’ to a civil marriage he wants to force them to change their surnames in the interests of ‘cistom’.The contradictions in our system are so glaring yet we do nothing to change them especially when the people getting the raw end are women. Umm, zvakaoma.

    2. rape beating is done by someone whether customarily or civilly married its just the make up of the physche of that person its not about the law

      1. Ranga, yes I think it is true that for any marriage to succeed it is a matter of the parties involved wanting it to work. But that is not what we are talking about here. We are talking about the framework hey, the whole system of marriages and how it creates confusion and places women in positions of disadvantage. We are talking about how the system looks down upon customary marriages yet there are people who never ‘upgrade’ their marriages yet they remain together for the rest of their lives. We are questioning why one country has 3 different recognised marriages. Why can we not have one? Why must there be one that is more important or of greater value than the others? We can understand why a Grade seven certificate has lesser value than a ZJC or Olevel, A’ level, First Degree, Masters, Phd certificate. The system is clear, the more you learn the higher your qualification but what is it about people married customarily that is less valuable than those who go to church or to the magistrates’ court? As you say there are many who are married customarily and are happier than those in civil marriages so why is the law differentiating them?

      2. The sad part is the example that is being used is not a genuine person in love who thought that they had married the man of their dreams. why should a man pay if he discovers something late in the relationship about the person that they initially wanted to marry. In the case of the various acts ya make noise about it but you must realise that there are people who want to recognize marriage in various ways. In fact in Zim there must be more than 3 types of marriages when you take into account the hindus , moslems and other types. So a society is bound to have different types of marriages because the society is not made up of people with uniform beliefs we cannot impose those.

        In the example being used everyone knows what happened and Locardia was out of the picture and was not staying with the PM until he decided to take on someone else. let us try to use different examples.

        The customary marriage was fine when it suited her i.e. if it existed at all . Ko vanhu ngavatendwe kurambwa. In this case she is not even due anything cause she did not build anything with the PM if lets say they had been married customarily for a while you could use this example. But in this case u have jumped to use a totally wrong example to try and look at the principles of marriage. A”a sting operation!”

      3. Kunta, ever heard men justify why they beat their wives (customarily or civly married) because culturally thats how its done -women need discpline. My point is many poeple hide behind culture for a lot of wrongs. Why do we not also cite it for goodness e..g preserve our cultural ways of marrying. Lobola, if we insist on it should be marriage enough to stand against Chapter so-and-so…

      4. Pfimbiyangu and others . I believe we are lost a bit here. a man who beats his wife is gonna be a wife beater whether customarily married or otherwise. the one who uses culture or customs is just a beater trying to justify his actions. lets not lose the plot here

  4. Thanks dear for writing this article. Was actually thinking that no one seems to be saying something about the Zimbabwean marriage laws, you have just nailed it. This is the circus that women go through on a daily basis, unfortunately or fortunately this has come out through a person in office. I quite agree with you the Registrar General should fix this mess

    1. I think sometimes we focus on symptoms of problems rather than digging into the root causes. The deficit in laws made it possible for this situation to happen in the first place and it is a problem for many people. It has only made it to the papers because Tsvangirai is a public figure but the Registrar General must clean up the mess of the marriage laws so that this does not continue happening daily in ordinary Zimbabaweans’ lives.

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