To lobola or not to lobola?

July 25, 2012 § 6 Comments

Originally appeared on my News24 column, 2010-11-03 11:04

There are two sides to the lobola debate. Some say it must be abolished because the tradition has lost everything it is meant to stand for. There is a feeling that this tradition has become about greed and not about relationships between families, as was the original intention.

Some say that we cannot abandon this custom because if we do, we lose everything that is African about us. These are the people who are fighting against what they view as the increasing Westernisation strangulation of African customs. They are opposed to the view that what is African is barbaric and that which is Western is civilized. Point is – both sides of the argument make valid positions.

People who do not understand the concept of lobola seem to think it is about purchasing a wife. There is no such thing as buying a wife when it comes to lobola. Those who call it a sale, as though one goes to Mr Price to pick a woman for the right price, are completely mistaken as to what this is all about. The original intention of lobola was to create a bond between the two families – that of the bride and of the groom.

Unfortunately, as many of us know, lobola has really lost its way. It has lost all meaning. The girls’ families often ask for too much, negotiations take a while, sometimes to such an extent that the relationship between the couple breaks down beyond repair because of unreasonable demands made by the bride’s family. Tempers flare, insults are exchanged, egos are hurt engagements are called off. In the end, what was meant to be the beginning of a lifelong family gathering is broken beyond repair.

Asking for too much

A few years ago, a friend of mine was on the verge of marrying a girl who had been known for her, well, liberal exploits with boys during her high school years. I asked him about the lobola negotiations and he said to me: “Bra, they are asking for a lot of money. The problem is these girls’ parents don’t know of their precious daughter’s escapades. Now they think they can ask for these insane amounts of money.” Six years later, neither of them is married. My friend moved to another country.

A lot of women are in support of this custom. One finds very few opposed to it. The argument that is often raised is that they are well-educated, they have been raised well and all sorts of things that are included in the negotiating process. I always fail to understand this logic; raising a daughter well is not so that she can find a good man, it is so that she can be a great human being. An education is to benefit her too; it is not there to serve her future husband.

The argument for the abolitionists states that as a young man about to start a family you must pay up and at times, insane amounts of money for your future bride. And to make matters even more complex, there is the engagement ring and the wedding rings that must still be bought.

Then there are the massive weddings. Yes. Weddings. The traditional and the Western weddings. Those cost money too. By the time one has settled down, one hasn’t settled the wedding debt. How is one to start a happy family under these circumstances they ask themselves? Is it time move away from lobola?

Lobola classes?

Others believe it is as part of our culture as the sun rising from the east. It is the way it is. It is the way it has always been, therefore, it will be that will until the end of time. The argument here is that no one asks for the church to be abolished simply because it has been misused by some. They want to hold on to culture, although a majority of them can’t even explain to you what they mean by that. They speak about honouring what has been done before even though it is not done in the spirit that honours those who came before.

Let’s face it, lobola has become about greed. It has become about what the bride’s parents can get from the groom. I was once told of a family that asked for a Mercedes Benz E Class from their wealthy future son-in-law. He bought it.

If we are to continue honouring the tradition of lobola as it ought to be, it should be practiced with the original intention. It must stop being the farce that is has become. We have come to disgrace it; our ancestors would never recognise it for what it was meant to be. There should be some sort of lobola classes to teach us all what it really is about because it goes beyond just negotiating what I want you to pay for my daughter.

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§ 6 Responses to To lobola or not to lobola?

  • sharon moraswi says:

    Thought piece which provokes conversations.. But not educational and enlightening in content

  • Siphesihle says:

    who is going to attend these lobola classes? some people feel that they know to much and can not be taught about their own cultures, it shud be a matter of families sitting down and educating the young one’s what lobola really is I do not think people will attend classes on their own culture nor will anyone admitt that lobola is mis-understtoed

  • Ngwanevic says:

    Couldn’t agree with more on this “I always fail to understand this logic; raising a daughter well is not so that she can find a good man, it is so that she can be a great human being. An education is to benefit her too; it is not there to serve her future husband.”

  • Ketse says:

    Maybe we should find other ways to build friendships Bren families, not money

  • m0sultry says:

    Thanks for changing my mindset. I don’t know much about lobola and the process, all I knew was that I wanted my future husband to lobola and that since I’m educated, the price would go up. This is because I saw it happen in my own family and the way my uncles would talk when they would encourage me to finish my degree. It didn’t make sense to me but I still accepted the notion.

    I wouldn’t want to get married with a man who’s in debt, especially because of me. (lobola, the wedding, the rings etc) I would appreciate the lobola classes and it would be interesting to know how they charge my future husband, what are the charges based on? And also, what the money would be used for.

    As far as I know, the lobola money is used to pay for the wedding but people don’t use it for that anymore.

    I agree with Siphesihle though, families should sit us down and educate us, most people wouldn’t attend these classes.

  • MinxMagSA says:

    Reblogged this on minxsa and commented:
    Very insightful thoughts by the (not so) young Mr Dlanga. Shall be printed out and handed to my family the second my future hubby talks about an engagement.

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