Karabo Mokoena
Content producer
6 minute read
2 Sep 2019
8:06 am

The culture of Lobolo in the 21st Century

Karabo Mokoena

So what happens when a guy that earns R8 000 a month wants to marry you, but can't afford it?

I want to believe that I am a slightly cultured black lady. I was raised by a staunch traditional Sesotho woman that smeared ash on windows when there was a funeral. I was raised to bow every time a funeral passed. We went to the graveyard very often, spt on a small stone and spoke to our ancestors. The culture of knowing and embracing my ancestors and my roots was embedded in me.

Embracing our ancestors is accompanied by the requirement to embrace our traditions.

One such tradition is that of Lobolo.

When Sechaba (my partner) asked me to marry him, I quickly went to my family to inquire about the process the he needed to follow. I had a vague idea of what needed to happen but wasn’t too sure.

So this is how it works in my culture;

The boy’s family writes a letter to my family expressing their interest to come to my home to sit with the elders (mostly the uncles). They are expressing this interest because they have seen a beautiful flower in the family that they would like to take for themselves. That flower is me. If my family accepts, they write back consenting to their visit. On this particular day, the two families gathered at my home. The boy’s family would take out, either money or a bottle of alcohol to ‘open their mouths’. This means that my family cannot start speaking before the vula mlomo (mouth opener) has been done.

The families then agree on an amount that I am not supposed to know of. I still don’t. I think that this has a lot to do with the idea that we (women) could eventually weigh ourselves on a value that is decided on by our families.

This price is based on some key factors, from what I have heard:

-Working experience
-Level of income/independence

Lobola is a norm in the black African cultures. Some parts of the world call it a bride price, or bridewealth.

It’s a means to bring the two families together and a way for the groom to appreciate all the work the parents have done to raise his new bride.

Traditionally, lobolo was paid utilizing cattle. This just changed over time to a monetary value attached to a single cow. If 1 cow is R1000, and the family requests 5 cows, then the groom’s family would have to pay R5000.

The sentiment of this tradition makes perfect sense. It’s just that in the reality of 2019 life has become incredibly expensive.

So I get mind boggled when families request crazy amounts like R50 000, solely for lobolo. The families still need to exchange gifts and have other ceremonies before the wedding ceremony.

Besides that, the bride and groom need to be able to live post-wedding celebrations.

How many families have you heard of that go completely broke after the wedding? I have heard of a few.

When I request advise from people that have been married, they always advise never to use a lot of money because life does not stop for us to recover after the wedding.

Sadly, a lot of families would share the R50 000 amongst themselves instead of assisting the couple with the relevant ceremonies or giving it to them to start their new life together.

Then we understand why some women would help their future husband’s pay the exorbitant amounts of money. Women know their pockets more than our families do. So when they request crazy amounts, we don’t object too much for fear of diminishing his value to our families. No one wants to make their partners look like they will not be able to take care of them.

Men have been known to delay the commitment to marry their girlfriends because they are not financially ready. So when he expresses the interest to marry a woman that can afford to assist him financially, is there a problem?

Critiques have come out to say that it is un-African for a woman to pay or subsidize their bride price.

Women are being called desperate for wanting to pay their lobolo.

Why can’t it be viewed as a positive thing? A woman that understands her partner’s financial situation enough to offer a hand. A good woman would not let their man suffer and be overwhelmed by stress, right?

I saw a fascinating news headline about two weeks ago. It went something like this:

“I paid for my own Lobola, and now my husband is cheating on me”

This, for a lot of people, came across as: 

“I married myself and now my husband, who technically did not marry me, is seeing someone else”. This means that her husband, and potentially her in-laws, do not recognize her as her husbands wife.

As a young Sesotho girl, I also saw the latter explanation of the headline, which made me question my idea and understanding of the institution of lobolo and marriage in black African families.  The lobolo payment is recognised as the actual marriage. A customary marriage holds more value than a piece of paper that legalises your marriage.

So what happens when a guy that earns R8 000 a month wants to ‘wife’ you, but can’t afford it. Would you rather let him go get a loan? Or if you could afford to, would you assist as the female partner?

There is no easy answer. Every resolution has its flaws. You run the risk of not being recognised as a real wife if you help him. You also run the risk of starting your marriage with debt if you don’t.

Marriage is a beautiful thing, and nothing should take away from its beauty.

Karabo Parenty Post BioKarabo Motsiri is a first-time mom, over-sharer, lover of life, chronic napper and married to her best friend. She loves a good party because the dance floor is her happy place. She enjoys good food, good conversations, laughs a little too hard, and cries during every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. She started her blogging journey because she wanted to share all the ups and downs of being a young modern mama in South Africa. Her blog Black Mom Chronicles has been featured on Ayana Magazine & SA Mom Blog. She has enjoyed airtime on Power FM and frequently writes for the parenting section of Saturday Citizen. She also works with MamaMagic on their Product Awards, Milestones Magazine, Heart to Heart blog, and the Baby Expo, which is South Africa’s biggest parenting expo. 

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