How much should lobola be?

21 May, 2017 - 00:05 0 Views

The Sunday News

MY friend’s cousin used to preach to us that if our boyfriends couldn’t come up with at least 10 000 United States dollars to lobola us then we must forget about them. A man who loves you must be willing to pay any amount your parents charge, she would say. When my friend told her that her boyfriend could never come up with that much money, she was advised to immediately dump him and get a man “within her league.”

The day came for the cousin in question to be “lobolwad” herself, and I will never forget how she wailed in her room after hearing her parents wanted a “mere” $9 000 from her boyfriend. She was bitter that her parents wanted so much money from what she now called her “hardworking, poor boyfriend” who had managed to save only $5 000 to lobola her. My friend, who rarely minces her words, asked her why she was crying yet her parents were demanding an amount less than the $10 000 she had always expected other men to have. “This is different, she said. Remember even after this, we have a life to live!”

How many of you have charged shockingly deterrent amounts when your relatives’ children are getting married, only to cry foul when your own children are charged the same amounts? How many of you men have demanded 20 cows from your sisters’ suitors; only to start calling your own potential in-laws greedy when they demand a “humble” 10 cows from you.

We seem to have no idea why lobola is charged or how much should be charged; thus when the money is coming to us, we want a lot of it but when it is coming from us, we want it to be as little as possible. Many people have criminalised the lobola custom by treating it as some form of get rich quick scheme.

Recently someone posted this on a facebook group: “Is lobola still relevant in our society or has it become a money-making business that ensures that as women, we continue to be treated as property?”

I was alarmed that there are people who are so fed up that they are starting to think this beautiful custom of ours should be abolished. Our culture is beautiful.

Every custom is open to manipulation by criminal elements among us but we should never consider totally letting go of something that defines us because of rogue elements. I felt compelled to defend this custom and because I didn’t know enough about it, I immediately texted my father for back up and this is what we came up with:

Lobola is a cultural practice that officially solemnises a union between a man and a woman. It is paid by the man because in our culture the man ‘‘takes’’ the woman and must or is expected to show seriousness of purpose by conscientiously saving some form of wealth or assets to pay the bride prize.

As a cultural practice it is very important to both parties. To the woman, payment of lobola is an assurance that the man values his bride. It is a public declaration of a vote of confidence in the woman you are marrying. It is a sign and a declaration to your in-laws that you are capable of fending for her and the family to be.

To the woman who is being married, it is a sign that the man who is marrying her is showing her that he is prepared to lose some valuables in order to marry her. The advantages of lobola are quite many.

Firstly, it is a declaration of compliance to the culture that you belong to. That declaration is an assurance that you are a “normal” man in your society. In other words, you are going to pass on the culture to your future generations.

Secondly, payment of lobola gives you a certain status in the community. Lobola is paid in public in the future wife’s clan. It is going to be public knowledge that you paid or failed to pay lobola for your bride. By the same token, it shall be also known whether the woman you are staying with is your wife or concubine.

In a recent court case, Harare High Court judge, Justice Happias Zhou ruled that a couple that stays together for a long time as husband and wife without any payment of lobola does not upgrade the relationship to a legitimate marriage for the purposes of inheritance.

This means that even in the eyes of the law, a customary marriage is legitimised by the payment of lobola. You are a man when you are able to pay lobola. It raises your status in society. That is why traditionally men married more than one woman.

Lobola also elevates the woman in society. You are treated with respect and dignity by your family and his, if your husband paid lobola for you. Some families will not recognise you as their daughter-in-law if lobola was not paid.

The man is also more respected by his in-laws than those sons-in-laws who have not paid any lobola in the same household.

As long as lobola is taken as a traditional practice, it is a very respectable practice.

Lobola shows that both families have accepted and blessed the union as the man goes to his in-laws accompanied by his family, as a sign that his family supports his choice and the woman’s family gets to approve of the man by accepting his lobola.

Marriage in our culture is between families, not just the two people getting married.

Lobola somehow holds a couple accountable when something goes wrong. A man will be reminded that he is the one who got up and went to ask for someone’s daughter; nobody forced him, he did it of his own free will. A woman will also be reminded that she brought her people into the family, it was her choice, nobody forced her. Because both parties entered into the union willingly, they are always encouraged to try and work their way back to that love they once had for each other.

Paying lobola is a sign that you respect yourself, your wife-to-be, her family and her culture as well as yours. Usually this breeds grounds for a loving union as a “good wife” will be grateful for that and is likely to reciprocate and reward that love and respect.

Where marriages break down and the wife goes back to her family the cattle are used to raise the children even when a man refuses to contribute to their welfare. This also applies in event of the death of a husband. Where lobola wasn’t paid, parents of girls find themselves having to use their own resources to raise the children from failed unions.

It is unfortunate that in some families exorbitant sums are charged in the name of lobola. Some people are now using the lobola custom as a business venture by charging amounts that are out of this world. Marriages are now starting on a very sour note because of opportunistic lobola charges. The value addition that went with the payment of lobola has now been thrown out of the window because couples now start their married lives as paupers and deep in debt due to the weird charges.

Some marriages fail to take off altogether because the in-laws want payment up front. Some lobola charges of today cause a lot of trauma to the new couples.

So what is the best way forward with lobola? The first thing is to respect lobola for what it has always been. That is, a solemnisation of a marriage bond between two families. Families discussing lobola should always be guided by tradition or custom. What is the family custom on lobola?

Where there is a clear cut tradition, even children can tell you how much you shall be charged for lobola. For example, in some families, there is a standing or even a fixed charge for lobola. It is five head of live cattle plus one cow for the mother of the daughter, five goats and five sheep. They will tell you this has been the charge that their great-grandfathers paid and that is what any son-in-law shall be charged in their clan. What can vary is probably “ukangaziwe” and “isivulamlomo” and “ukungena ekhaya.”

These are generally small charges that do not normally change the core of lobola charges.

Our view is that, for as long as lobola is viewed as a bond between two families, it shall always be a very noble and exciting custom.


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