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“My wedding day was the last time I genuinely smiled:” husband calls woman property after paying bride price

I once suggested I needed to go to my parents. Instantly, he informed me that I was his property. He said he paid money for me, and I had no business going back to the store where he bought me. It dawned on me, by the events of that day, I lived with a dangerous man.

  • 4 weeks ago
  • April 26, 2024
7 min read
Traditional wedding practices like the payment of a bride price is an important part of marriage in many African cultures. | Representative image courtesy Musa Dhlamini on Unsplash Traditional wedding practices like the payment of a bride price is an important part of marriage in many African cultures. | Representative image courtesy Musa Dhlamini on Unsplash
Hazel Sithole
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Hazel Sithole, 40, married her husband at the age of 19 and he paid a bride price of $5,000 USD. The relationship became abusive as he expressed that she was property. Through her story, she speaks out against the practice. The mother of six eventually left her husband and now sells maize cobs at local high schools and is planning to open a daycare. She suffers from a list of health problems today, after years of mental and physical abuse, including irregular blood pressure and arthritis. She remains single.
Background Information
In African countries, for many people, paying a bride price remains an acceptable practice for marriage. While the practice evolved over the years, the bride has little to no role in the process. It may include a monetary sum, can include animals like goats or chickens, and a grocery list. If a woman is thought to be with another man while still at her parents, the parents may have to pay “damages” as a form of forgiveness of the woman. According to news reports from November 2023, the Lobola or bride price payment in Zimbabwe, the enactment of the New Marriages Act changed the bride price from a legal mandate to a moral choice. Traditionalists see it as a threat. When bride price was a legal mandate, many pointed to subsequent discrimination against women, lack of autonomy, and women serving as property. According to one article, under the old law, “If a husband is unfaithful or abusive, the wife has no legal standing to reclaim the bride price or any other form of compensation.”

HARARE, Zimbabwe ꟷ Many woman in Africa, especially those in Zimbabwe, wish to be married someday, and they hope they groom’s family will pay a good bride price – a very common marriage transaction. Some women live for this day, and I used to be one of them. With no life at all, I spent significant time thinking about marriage and longing for my day to come. When it finally did, at the age of 19, I felt ecstatic and fulfilled, like all my fantasies were coming to life.

My very well planned out wedding day started nicely. The entire family prepared for a huge celebration with my parent’s adorned in beautiful new clothes. Yet, all the smiles and happiness accompanying my traditional marriage would abruptly end. My wedding day was the last time I genuinely smiled. Happiness disappeared from my life.

Read more stories from Africa at Orato World Media.

After an incredible wedding day – with the bride price paid – red flags emerge

On that sunny day, the birds sang, and it felt like nothing could go wrong. We awaited the arrival of the groom’s family to kickstart the process. Soon, we completed all the proper procedures and paid my bride price, the equivalent of about $5,000 (USD). The cost, excluding cattle and groceries, represented the average bride price in Zimbabwe. Though not a fixed price, families may pay in full or in installments. With two families coming together, negotiation often happens.

As soon as we finished the traditional wedding rites, I bid farewell to my family and went to live with my husband in Harare. When my husband said he wanted to marry me, I dropped out of school under the promise he would take care of me. Being a housewife remains common in Zimbabwe. A girl may attend school her entire life, but the moment a man proposes, she drops everything to become a stay-at-home wife. Even many women with degrees and skills follow this process. No one considered it a problem that I left school, and I never imagined it being the worst mistake of my life.

During the first years of my marriage, my husband showed no signs of violence toward me. However, he made certain remarks which suggested he harbored a deep hatred. He said things like, “Be useful,” “Do what you came here to do,” and “I went broke as soon as you came here.” I shrugged it off and went about my business, though I felt he wanted to see me suffer. Whenever he came home from work, if he saw me sitting in front of the television, he threw a fit. I began to do my tasks repeatedly just to stay busy and avoid trouble.

The beatings begin: “He informed me that I was his property; that he paid money for me.”

When I got pregnant, things worsened. It came to a point when I became unable to do hard, physical work. Though I needed help, he refused to have someone come live with me and forced me to continue as usual. I once suggested I needed to go to my parents. Instantly, he informed me that I was his property. He said he paid money for me, and I had no business going back to the store where he bought me. It dawned on me, by the events of that day, I lived with a dangerous man.

None of these signs arose during our dating period. I believed him to be the kind of guy who lived life carefree. Yet, the moment I became his responsibility, he blew a fuse, and everything changed. Once, when my parents needed help with medical fees, he said tell them to use the money he paid for the bride price. “It is more than enough for a lifetime of supplies,” he said. I felt like he had gone crazy. 

After having a miscarriage, my husband started beating me. He accused me of not wanting to have his children and called it an act of rebellion. To prove him wrong, I delivered two more after the miscarriage. He continued beating me, demanding I live up to my value and saying I needed to put the money he spent to good use. Every day, life revolved around the bride price. I became so helpless I began to wish my parents never accepted his money. It made me feel sick all the time.

Women whose family paid bride price finally escapes abusive husband

My husband forced me to have intercourse a few weeks after each childbirth, ensuring little time between children, and threatened to go have sex elsewhere. He forced me to do things I will not mention and when I think of those moments, pain fills me, and tears come to my eyes. Eventually, I contracted HIV from my husband, but he blamed me, accusing me of being unfaithful. Every sexual encounter became forceful, and I felt my life leaving my body. I came to realize I married a selfish lover. As long as he got what he wanted, he thought of nothing else.

Time went on and he controlled what and when I ate. He made me depend on him for money, giving me only a little at a time. I often awaited his return home to give me the money to go buy food for the next meal. Being pregnant every year led to malnutrition, weight loss, and constant sickness. Like a prisoner, I had no means of communicating with my family because if he gave me his phone, he hovered over me listening to every word.

One day, while slumped over from exhaustion, he accused me of eating too much. The mental stress escalated, and the house began to feel strange, like I lived in a different country. The horror continued and one day, I just gave up. After the birth of my sixth child, a person from church saw my condition and offered me a job caring for their children during the day. That offer changed my life. I used the money to start my own business and became capable of taking care of my children alone.

Then, I ran away. He never looked for me. To him, I simply did not exist. I often wondered, “What did I do to make him hate me so much?” Now I know that broken people break people. Today, I am working on opening a day care with help through my church. My greatest wish is that every woman would empower herself and reject being paid for; to seek out relationships based on love.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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