Vhahangwele Nemakonde
Digital Journalist
4 minute read
7 Oct 2015
12:36 pm

‘XiTsonga is modern’ but not in lobola

Vhahangwele Nemakonde

Well known Tsonga musician Penny Penny once sang Xichangani i xilungu (Shangaan is English/modern), but when it comes to marriage, archaic norms and traditions still prove to be pivotal.

raditional outfits came out in force: while the ladies were sharp in Tsonga xibelani gear. (Photo by Gallo Images/Drum/ER Lombard)

VaTsonga men in general are known for taking good care of their wives. One such example is Paul Ndlovu, who in one on his songs sang that he would buy his wife a plane.

Lobola in Xitsonga is called malobolo.

What we learn from this process is that though cultures differ, they also have common ground. In the TshiVenda process, we learned that the couple never initiated marriage themselves, and that it was all the parents’ doing.

The same applies to the Tsonga process; either the groom/bride’s family initiated the marriage proposal. They looked mainly at the other family’s character and how they interacted with other families in the community and if they practised witchcraft. Family choice was never based on wealth.

Tsonga lobola processes are more rigorous now than they were in the olden days, contrary to the TshiVenda processes.

Back in the day, VaTsonga got married at the average age of 30. When the man’s family saw that their child was old enough to get married, they would send delegates to their chosen family to ask for the daughter’s hand in marriage.

If the family of the bride initiated the proposal, they would send delegates to ask the other family to consider their daughter when they looked for a wife. If successful, the man’s family would send delegates to accept the proposal and start the negotiations.

A virgin’s bride price was higher compared to a woman who had a child in the Tsonga culture. It was complicated to marry a woman who had a child, and the woman was often asked to leave her child behind when she moved to her matrimonial home.

After lobola was fully paid, the bride would choose friends who were unmarried to accompany her to her matrimonial house. They would stay there for a week, helping the new bride perform her makoti duties, make sure she settled in well and then left the house.

There were no fines and anyone (close relatives) could be sent as a delegate regardless of their gender.

Lobola negotiations now

The couple meet and discuss marriage on their own. The guy then tells the lady to inform her family that he will send delegates.

The date would then be set and the delegates would go to the girl’s family. When they arrived, this is what happens:

  • Kundzawuta – This is when the guy’s delegates introduces themselves: who they are and where they come from. They pay money to introduce themselves.
  • Mathlomanyane weni – The lady’s family then asks the delegates what they want.
  • Kulandza mhani masin’wini – The girl’s family would then say they could not discuss marriage in the girl’s mother’s absence, they would often say she had gone to the fields, regardless of where she was. The delegates would have to pay money and request the mother to be fetched from the fields.
  • Kulandza papa timbalelweni – Again, the girl’s family would then say they could not discuss marriage in the girl’s father’s absence, they would often say he had gone to fetch wood, regardless of where he was. The delegates would have to pay money and request the father to be fetched.
  • Hivonile nhwana – After the parents have been ‘fetched’, the delegates pay money, explaining they saw a ‘flower’ they would like to plant at their home. This is when they get specific about their proposal.
  • Xivala xa tihomu – The girl’s family asks for the delegates to give them a ‘kraal’ to keep the cows. The delegates have to spread a blanket on the floor or put a wallet. Then they are told how many cows are needed.
  • Nkumba wa mani – The delegates then bring gifts for the mother, in a form of clothes and shoes.
  • Jazi ra papa – The guy’s family then brings gifts for the father, in a form of clothes and shoes, a suit must be there.
  • Timfuku ta fole – When they are finished, the guy’s family gives the other family two tins of snuff, they must have R5 coins in them.
One of the ifts give to the bride's family. Picture: buysouthafricaonline.co.uk

One of the gifts give to the bride’s family. Picture: buysouthafricaonline.co.uk

  • Xibakele-mvula xifuva – As they negotiate lobola, the girl’s family requests that the other family gives them something to drink, usually alcohol, including the snuif.
  • Mudzivuriso – The delegates then bring gifts for the bride, in a form of clothes and shoes.
  • Kukoxa xuma – Then comes the lobola, usually not the whole amount because they know the bride price on the same day. They pay the first amount and come back another day for the full amount. They are not allowed to take the girl before the bride price has been paid in full. Some families however would test the waters to see if the girl’s family would let them take her before paying the full price.

After all this, the two families then discuss how the bride will be take to her new home.


  • Arriving late
  • Impregnating the bride before marriage
  • Entering the bride’s yard without their consent
  • Forgetting the snuff for mamazala (mother-in-law)
  • Sitting down without being told to


This is not conventional to all VaTsonga people.

Next week: Lobola negotiation for BaTswana women