Lobola is defined among southern African people as a bride price, traditionally one paid with cattle. The Lobola ceremony is of the highest importance because it is both a spiritual and a social family affair involving the combination of two lives, two different families and even communities. The main purpose of Lobola is to thank the bride’s family for their efforts in the upbringing of their daughter in a manner that simultaneously unites two families, because marriage in African culture is not just the union of two individuals, but rather that of two families.
However, in today’s society we have seen the commercialisation of Lobola where the bride price is now no longer just paid with cows but with usually highly valued goods or a substantial amount of money with heads of cattle slowly converted into cash. Some families can claim up to 50 cows or R100000 because their daughter is a doctor or a lawyer, and they want to gain back all the fee’s that went towards her education. The lowest bride price is estimated to be five cows or R20 000.
The commercialisation of this custom tends to lead many to follow the Western culture, accusing the tradition of being barbaric and therefore saying that it is no longer relevant. Many a wedding has been cancelled due to the fact that the bride price was too high and the family could not pay the amount claimed. When this tradition turns into a commercialised practice, the relationship will be in jeopardy. The love that the two couple would have had could become strained and some wives will never hear the end of how much they cost and in turn could lead to a very abusive relationship or bitterness amongst the families with the one family feeling aggrieved that the bride price was too high and the other family feeling dissatisfied if the man doesn’t pay the full bride price. In this instance one would say that Lobola isn’t relevant and should just be done away with.
However when you take a look at the history behind Lobola, and look at its meaning and origins, it is actually a beautiful tradition of bringing the whole family together and uniting a community. The cattle given for a bride would go to her father and brothers who in turn when, it was their turn to get married, would be able to also have cows as the kraal would have grown bigger, it was a nice redistribution of wealth and not meant to cause pain or heartache and was a symbol of love and appreciation and the two families on wedding days or funerals would be able to slaughter cattle to feed the guest or mourners gathered. The parents had no right to demand an unreasonable amount for Lobola, as the man is going to take care of their daughter. Lobola was a cultural practice where a man thanked the parents of his future wife, for raising her from a girl to a woman and that cannot be said in my opinion to be bad and not relevant.
So when looked at it from a traditional point of view, Lobola is still relevant and a beautiful part of African heritage and tradition, that despite colonialism never ended, but when it becomes commercialised and it’s all about parents demanding cars and luxury goods then it loses all value and meaning and should really be done away with.
*This is an opinion piece submitted by a Makamba Online reader who wishes to remain anonymous.