The price of happiness
How the economy is wrecking the marriage market
The great institutions of Zimbabwe continue to crumble into dust. The latest is education, as the government fails to open the schools for a new term. But despite this and everything else, I am continually surprised by the way normal life struggles on. A particular struggle is one in which my friend Gumbo finds himself embroiled this week.
Gumbo is a man in love. His fiancee is Judith, 25. Judith is quite a catch - good looking and kind, with a degree in economics, a science much neglected in our impoverished state. She'd make any young man an excellent wife.
With that in view, last Friday Gumbo travelled to Plumtree, in Matabeleland south province, to visit Judith's parents. The object of the visit was to settle the matter of Lobolo - the bride price.
Lobolo, for western readers, is a traditional Zimbabwean custom. The Bride Price is exactly what it says. The intention behind it is to cement relations between the two families. In normal times it is not exorbitant.
But these are not normal times. Gumbo arrived at Judith's home. Ten minutes later he was leaving, in a state of humiliation, bewilderment and despair. Through saving and scrimping he had accumulated a sum of 2000 South African rand. About US$200. He thought it would be sufficient. He thought wrong.
Judith's parents demanded the equivalent of US$3,200.
Thoughtfully they had itemised the total for poor Gumbo. It went something like this:
Fee for entry to in-laws' house US$100
Introduction fee US$150
Fee for status as son-in-law US$550
Six head of cattle US$1,200
Education compensation fee US$200
Added to these amounts was a fee for "damage". Yes, as many readers will know, this term refers to the undeniable fact that Judith is four months pregnant. The fee - US$900.
And the additional US$100 still not accounted for? Judith's parents request a designer suit for the father and a designer dress for the mother. Oh yes - and three blankets.
Normally lobolo payment is staggered over the years. Judith's parents want the lot now. And they want money for Judith's upkeep, for her maternity bills, for...
Gumbo is a defeated man. He has no hope of finding the money. Is he a victim of the economic breakdown in Zimbabwe? Perhaps, yes. But then again, ask yourself this: would you sell your daughter for a designer suit, a designer dress, and three blankets?