Zimbabwean Culture

Family

In Zimbabwe, the “family” traditionally refers to an expansive kinship network. Though these networks may not continue in their traditional form, extended family relationships are still very close and important to one’s life. As an example, there is no such thing as a “cousin” in Zimbabwean culture. Cousins are referred to and understood as one’s brothers and sisters. Sometimes, even friendships can be as strong as brotherhood or sisterhood. However, growing urbanisation, Christianity and the effects of European colonialism have contributed to a trend towards nuclear families, monogamous marriages and individualism in the cities. 


Extended family units comprising multiple generations are still visible in rural areas, meanwhile the immediately family usually lives alone in urban areas. However, even in nuclear households, one still has deep connections and obligations to other relatives, especially in times of need. For example, if elders get sick, they will move in so the family can take care of them. Furthermore, if relatives have recently moved into town, the family will allow them to live in their house until they find suitable arrangements. 


The extended family and community can also play a large role in raising and caring for children, especially in rural areas. A Shona proverb says, “you do not educate your child for yourself alone; education is for society, by society”. This emphasises the collectivistic nature of the culture and the approach to parenting. A person’s behaviour is seen as the community’s responsibility, as well as their responsibility to the community.


There is strong disapproval of people who wish not to marry or bear children in Zimbabwe. The choice not to have children is incomprehensible to many, whilst people who cannot conceive are often considered worthless and inadequate. In rural areas, a greater number of children is seen positively as they can provide more assistance around the house as the parents age. 


Traditionally, the Shona, Ndebele, Shangani and Venda people have patrilineal groups and families. Women move into their husband’s families’ houses at marriage; descent and leadership are also passed down through the male side of the family. However, there is an exception among the Shangani people. Some groups traditionally follow a matrilocal social organisation (the husband moves into the wife’s home at marriage).

 

Gender Roles

Zimbabwean society is generally very patriarchal. While there are some minority tribal groups that are matrilocal and matrilineal, men generally hold more decision-making power. Within the family, the oldest male (usually the father) is the patriarch and is expected to be the breadwinner for the entire household. The oldest brother/male child is then thought of as the second father. The women are typically expected to be obedient to their husband and not to disagree or challenge his views. A woman may have more authority over family members that are not her husband. For example, an aunt (tete) has more power to openly criticise and preside over family disputes. However, generally men are more commanding of the public sphere and political leadership is male dominated. 

 

Those women who are educated and engaging in wage-labour are starting to seek more decision-making power. Currently, law based on cultural customs discriminates against their rights to part-time work and inheritance. Traditionally, Zimbabwean women engage in much of the labour and farming required in day-to-day operation. Their traditional economic activities include gardening, raising poultry and baking to supply additional household goods and income. 


Many men have migrated to urban centres for work, leaving elders, women and children in rural areas. This has led to a rise in female-headed households whereby women have to look after everyone in the family. Women now outnumber men in the agricultural sector. 

 

Dating and Marriage

Marriage and dating practices vary between the rural and urban areas. The practices may also be influenced by the couple’s social attitudes and reasons for marriage. For example, online dating can be very popular in the cities, whereas in some regional areas, parents may exclusively choose their children’s partners. Commonly, Zimbabwean couples date privately and only tell their parents of their relationship once they are ready to get married. 


Zimbabwean law recognises both civil marriages and customary marriages. Civil marriages are monogamous unions that can be ended by death or divorce – similar to the legal system followed in Australia. Customary marriages are unions that are guided by cultural practices and are usually only able to be ended by death (divorce is uncommon depending on the cultural group’s practices). Customary marriages are only legally available to native Zimbabweans (not European Zimbabweans). They may be polygamous, with the man having more than one wife, and are often initiated through cultural ceremonies. They also often involve the exchange of a bride price (known as ‘roora’ in Shona and ‘lobola’ in Ndebele, Zulu and Xhosa). This is common in both rural and urban areas. Often, a Christian marriage ceremony will occur a few months after the bride price has been exchanged.


The most common unions among Zimbabweans are unregistered customary marriages. These are customary marriages that are not legally recognised because the man and woman have fulfilled the cultural marriage ceremonies without signing the marriage register. Many Zimbabweans may not know they have to register their marriage for the couple to get the legal benefits, or do not wish to travel to the nearest city or church to get the official approval by a registered marriage officer. However, the result is that not all married couples are entitled to the same benefits and rights – particularly women.

 

Polygyny is a traditional practice in Zimbabwe (whereby a man has a polygamous marriage with multiple wives). This type of marriage contract has become less common with the influence of Christian values. However, in households with more than one wife, each woman is usually provided with her own kitchen and living space. The practice of ‘kurarira’ has also become unpopular. This is an alternative to the bride price by which the man is incorporated into his prospective wife’s family and works for them until they permit him to marry their daughter.

 

Divorce is generally rare in Zimbabwe as it is highly stigmatised. Being a predominantly Christian nation, marriage is regarded as a sacred union, and to break it can be interpreted as a sin. While rates of divorce are increasing, numbers remain low.

Incluude

A unified, searchable interface answering your questions on the world’s cultures and religions.

Inclusion Program

Inclusion logo

Join over 450 organisations already creating a better workplace

Find out more
Download this Cultural Profile

Too busy to read it right now?

You can download this cultural profile in an easy-to-read PDF format that can be printed out and accessed at any time.