Senate has finally made progress on the Marriages Bill after the chiefs and justice minister finally found each on sticking clauses.
The Bill was gazetted on the 19th of July in 2019 and is seeking to harmonise marriage laws in the country. The Bill sailed through National Assembly in 2021 and had been gathering dust on the Senate Order Paper.
Currently, Zimbabwe operates mainly on two marriage laws namely the Marriages Act [Chapter 5:11] and Customery Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07]
The Marriages Bill is seeking to give civil marriage and customary marriage equal status. Previously people have often looked down upon the customary marriage because it does not protect the woman.
Clause 9 of the Bill seeks to include chiefs as marriages officers for customary marriages in areas in which they hold office.
It also makes lobola not mandatory for one to wed among other things.
Delays on the Bill had emanated from the chiefs’ argument that lobola should be mandatory as it was the hallmark of customary marriage and African tradition.
Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi opposed the move on the basis that it would reverse the commitments that Zimbabwe made internationally.
He also argued that it had the effect of making women deemed minors who cannot make decisions for themselves.
Chiefs also did not want to be taken through training for them to be marriage officers. Their argument was that they feared some could fail the test.
Debating on the Bill Senator Chief Ngungumbane argued that making chiefs go through tests to be marriage officers was discriminatory.
He said Magistrates and ambassadors are not taken through the same tests.
‘’Thank you, Madam Chair. I think as a background to this clause, Madam Chair, you would agree with me that there are serious issues that we need to discuss.
‘’I want to thank the Honourable Minister for coming with a revised version of Clause 9 but the same bone of contention is that this clause was discriminatory Madam Chair in that the Minister would qualify the chief, which was not the case with magistrates and ambassadors.
‘’He has come up with amendments, but these amendments are also silent on heads of embassies and magistrates. Can the Minister clarify the clause?
Everyone marriage officer is trained
However, in his response, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said every other person goes through training and that what would be discriminatory is for chiefs to not do the same training.
‘’Thank you, Honourable Chair. This clause in the format that it is, is not discriminatory at all.
‘’Those that are in the employ of the State such as the magistrates undergo specific training before they become magistrates. Those from embassies also undergo training. Religious leaders also undergo training because they are not within the employ of the State.
‘’The Registrar will then train them, and they are issued with certificates. Magistrates are trained before they assume duty. I do not see where it is discriminatory. In fact, it would be discriminatory if we say chiefs must not be trained but everyone else is supposed to be trained when there are issues and obligations that each and every marriage officer has to the State.
‘’If it was a situation Honourable Chair that the marriage is confined to your area of jurisdiction, I would have immediately removed it. This marriage certificate will be recognised internationally and there are obligations and rights that accrue from that marriage certificate,’’ he said.
Marriages Bill seek to give civil and customary marriages equal status
Ziyambi added that the bill sought to undo discriminations between the two types of marriage in the country.
‘’A long time ago, there was discrimination. Civil marriage was more recognised than customary marriage. Now we are saying we want all our marriages to carry the same weight and the same rights to accrue. If we say no, without a prescribed form, without conditions that allow the marriage to be recognised in terms of our laws, we would not have done justice to ourselves.
‘’I do not believe that this form of training should scare anyone. It will be tailored in such a way that it will be difficult for anyone to fail but should you fail, it means you will not be able to carry out your obligations as required by the law.
‘’We would not want some marriages to be given when we all know that they have not met the requisite standard to ensure that the rights and obligations that will flow with them will be recognised. I so submit Honourable Chair and I believe we have debated this long enough and if the Honourable Senators can concede on this one so that we proceed.
‘’This is the reason why I had to go back and request a re-committal, otherwise, we would have finished this. If Hon. Senators are happy with the form that it was originally, then I can move that we remove the re-committal and go back to the state that we were. I believe that in this state, the clause is very progressive, and it shows a lot of respect to everyone who is supposed to be a marriage officer,’’ he said. The Bill eventually passed through the committee stage with various amendments and was referred to the Parliament Legal Committee.