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Contemporary partnership patterns among the Zulu population: perceptions of University of KwaZulu-Natal students.

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The Zulu ethnic group is grappling with the contestations between tradition and modernity, where it is hard to find families that are purely traditional or completely modernized. The hybrid of the two is more prevalent, particularly in urban settings. Meekers (1992) asserts that most African countries have not completely abandoned traditional practices despite modernization taking place, hence marriage is one of the family formation types that persist among Africans. Marriage among the Zulu population involves numerous compulsory stages with negotiations being required for customary marriage. These stages consist of: Lobola, which involves negotiations of the bride price; Umembeso, where the groom’s family brings gifts for the bride's family; Umbondo, where the bride's family brings groceries to the groom’s family; wedding/umshado, which is the actual wedding day; and Umabo, where the bride's family gives gifts to the groom’s family after the wedding (Anarldo, 2011). All stages are very significant and are all perceived as an integral part of the marriage as a union. In light of this, this study explores the perception of the marriage process among the Zulu university students who are living in a modern space but are also bound by some aspect of their culture. Not many studies have explored how the marriage process may influence changes in partnership patterns, including but not limited to cohabitation and staying single. This study utilizes a qualitative approach to exploring partnership patterns within the selected sub-population. In-depth interviews were conducted among twenty (20) postgraduate students from the age 25 and above with an equal gender split. Findings revealed that marriage is not a priority for the Zulu postgraduate students. Rather, the focus is on education and accumulation of resources before marriage. The findings reveal the relationship between the marriage process and the contemporary partnership pattern; that the Zulu process is a valued process that plays a huge role in ensuring the couple becomes one unit. However, there are still negative connotations attached to the process which inhibit marriage, leaving people with no choice but to pursue other types of partnership patterns such as singleness, living apart together and cohabiting. Although cohabitation is culturally unacceptable, the stigma is slowly eroding in that there are circumstances where cohabiting is acceptable.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.