21 September 2012

Zimbabwe: Roora Alone Is Not Enough


Thanks to Locadia Karimatsenga for poking holes in the marriage framework presenting in the country.

Some loopholes, that have long prejudiced women married in unregistered marriages, have been exposed.

Last week we were thrown into an emotional ruckus - where the news-consuming public was either riled, thrilled, gored, encouraged, revolted, disgusted with the Locadia Karimatsenga, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Elizabeth Guma love-lust triangle which came to a boil when Locadia applied to the Magistrate for the wedding of the other two to be disallowed.

There are some, amidst all this hocus-pocus who remained indifferent and unperturbed. But whatever the case we cannot deny the fact that there are some distinct lessons to be gleaned from this, particularly by women who,, for many years have been at the mercy of their husband's whims on whether or not he will take up another wife willy-nilly.

First of all let us be clear. This incident will not stop men from taking more than one wife. We will obviously see some of them do so as has been the trend in the past decade or so, and even going further before that. But the lesson here is that it matters what Chapter or what type that marriage is. And as a woman be very clear of this. For married women, particularly and especially those who were/are married first by their husbands the issue here is to ensure your marriage is registered within the Chapter that best protects your interests and safeguards your union, if you are keen on staying in it that is.

Locadia's case has shone the spotlight on the incongruency between the different types of marriages we have in the country, which, as this issue has shone, should be harmonised. Apparently that roora/lobola was paid for you is not enough. You have to get your marriage registered for you and your children to get more out of the union. An unregistered marriage prejudices you especially if your husband other or later wife is going to get hers registered. You may as, Locadia pointed out, be legally viewed as committing adultery should you have sexual relations with your "husband". The co-existence of different marriage types in this country presents a real challenge, that needs to be addressed and soon.

But, lawyer and national co-ordinator of Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust, Slyvia Chirawu, says harmonisation of marriage laws alone is not the answer. The issue of three different marriages, requires more than just harmonisation but may call for new law altogether.

Shedding light in a local publication last week, Chirawu summarised the marriage framework in Zimbabwe as below (verbatim):

Chapter 5:11: Marriage Act - This marriage is conducted at the Magistrates' Court or in church by a registered marriage officer. It allows a man to have one wife at any given time. Only the High Court of Zimbabwe can dissolve this marriage.

Chapter 5:07: Customary Marriages Act - This marriage is conducted at the Magistrates' Court only. A man may have more than one wife and each wife will have their own marriage certificate. It is therefore a potentially polygamous marriage in the sense that a man can marry many wives. Most people refer to it as polygamy. This marriage can be dissolved at either the High Court or Magistrates' Court.

Unregistered customary law union - This arises in a situation where a man pays lobola for his wife. A man may also pay lobola for many wives. At law, this union is given limited recognition because it is not registered. For purposes of inheritance, it is recognised as a marriage. The union is also recognised as a marriage for purposes of maintenance. This means that the customary law "wife" can claim maintenance from her customary law "husband" even at or after termination of the union. Similarly, the customary law "husband" can claim maintenance from his "wife". This is in accordance with the Maintenance Act.

Those with marriages registered and have marriage certificates do not face many challenges, Chirawu says. They simply produce the marriage certificate to prove their status as legally married persons. On the other hand, women whose marriages are not registered and do not have marriage certificates are not so fortunate. One major challenge lies in that there are no clear or standard guidelines on when a union comes into being. This is due to the fact that culture is not homogeneous.

A man's world, a woman's cross to bear?

Maggie Mzumara is a Media, Communication and Leadership consultant. She writes this in her personal capacity as a social analyst.

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