by Pamela Maringa

The practice of Lobola or bride price is an age-old custom that involves the transfer of cattle from the prospective husband to his prospective bride’s family. Because of the change in time, the transfer is now done with money. The main reason for this custom is to offer a token of appreciation to the parents of the bride for raising her. It is also a symbol of pride to show that the daughter will not starve as she joins the new family.

Today it seems like Lobola is related to economic policies. It looks like it’s something that could be set out by Lesetja Kganyago (Reserve Bank Governor) and Malusi Gigaba (Minister of Finance). Lobola has become a serious business transaction with great financial rewards depending on which side of the transaction you are. It seems that as an African women, we have a price tag on us. When calculating a woman’s worth in these transactions, the main focus, has become how educated the bride is, how many children she has and if she has a job.

In our culture the bride doesn’t have a say in the amount of money being charged. I often have conversations with my dad trying to find out how much I’m worth. When I bring such topics up, it’s not so he can tell me my worth. That must be kept a secret. But I bring it up with the hope that I’ll remind my dad that Lobola is about building bridges and bringing two families together, and not about the money. I also remind him about the cost of living and how I wouldn’t like to begin my married life with debt hanging over my head.

Another contributing factor as to why many people see it as ridiculous to pay such an amount of money, is the rate of divorce. This is what happened to my cousin. Her boyfriend had R15 000 for Lobola, but my uncles requested R30 000. Her boyfriend suggested they wait until he can raise the outstanding amount. My cousin, being in a rush to get married, agreed to lend her boyfriend the money and he would then pay her back. The R15 000 eventually became a problem in their marriage because every time they fought, he would tell her to go back home because he never really paid for her. This also ruined her relationship with her family.

Are our parents justified in expecting that much in return for their “investment”? Are our men being robbed, blinded by love? Or has the compensation really got to the point that it warrants so much money?

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that Lobola prevents many South Africans from getting married.   Some men have also taken advantage of this fact, in order to run away from their responsibilities. With the bride price being so high, the man will probably have to start saving from the day they meet. Some couples choose to move in together to help save money for Lobola and end up with a couple of children. The idea of getting married becomes less of a priority.

Our parents should be reasonable they when charge Lobola, because those prices can be so outrageous that they break relationships. If my cousin had been involved in the decision about the amount that needed to be paid, things may have turned out differently.

Parents also need to know that Lobola is not a business deal. They can’t sell us like we are a commodity. Paying Lobola should be used to unite families, not for making a profit. If they continue like this they will deny us a chance to get married. Without marriage there will be no family structure for our children. The harmony and family values that come with marriage will be destroyed.

Let’s not let the love of money ruin our traditions. How will you as a parent explain to your grandchildren why they are a product of cohabitation and not marriage?