Ukuthwala: Tradition or Illegal Abduction

There has been much debate over the practice of ukuthwala in recently years. Originally a Xhosa practice, ukuthwala is now also seen in parts of KZN, affecting some young Zulu girls. With children as young as eight being taken away by older men, for the purpose of marriage, the practice has come onto the radar of the Depart of Justice (DOJ), who have published a document that talks about the danger of ukuthwala and how it affects the lives of young girls, and the community as a whole. According to the DOJ, while our Constitution recognises cultural practices, including traditional marriage, no culture is above the law, and where a cultural practice is in violation of the Bill of Rights, it will not be recognised by the law.

Interestingly ukuthwala is something that has been debated for as long as the practice has existed. In its earliest form it seems to have been a way of dealing with lobola negotiations that had reached a standstill. A man would take a woman away, with her consent, and then contact the family to tell them what had happened and arrange to make payment, thereby forcing the woman’s family to accept the marriage . However, the practice seems to have quickly distorted into abduction of a girl or woman, without her or her family’s consent, although there are instances where the family’s involvement or consent was given. It seems that this latter form of the practice, i.e. abduction without a woman’s consent, is what we are witnessing today, and is something that, at least according to our law, cannot be justified.

Click here to read a fascinating discussion on the topic of ukuthwala, as published in the Mercury last year.

Image courtesy of this website.

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