By Mogale Moganedi
If you were to ever ask a father that question you’d probably be kicked out of the house and maybe even given a free ride to somewhere in the neighbourhood of hell. Think of it though, isn’t that what is actually at the heart of all lobola negotiations?
For those not familiar with the concept, this is simply bride-price. The prospective son-in-law, or sometimes his family, pays lobola to the bride’s family. Cultural purists may question the definition since it refers to “payment”, which may imply a business deal. Though, as I argue below, the practice doesn’t appear too vastly different from a business transaction, I’ll concede that this may well not be the best possible definition.
The young man (I deliberately emphasise young because this is the one most likely to feel the financial pinch) can expect to pay anything upwards of R50 000. For some of the parents, a huge parameter is whether they like the prospective son-in-law. So an exorbitant amount may well be used as a deterrent.
I do think (and I have no evidence to prove this, I’m simply hypothesising using the simple laws of economics) that some men may be put off by the huge fees. Is it possible that this scourge may well be responsible for the perception that men are non-committal? That they have to be dragged kicking and sometimes screeching (like the brakes of his downgraded car — he had to save for lobola!) on his way to the altar to say “I do?”
Cultural practices like lobola should not be stagnant. This would ensure they remain relevant in the dynamic times we live. I guess one could argue that lobola has evolved to take this into consideration — seeing that the amount one has to pay is often linked to the number of degrees she has. And what her earning potential is.
Lobola was initially intended to enable the man to prove he can take care of his wife and family. Today’s version seems to actually set him on the back foot from the very outset. It is a counterproductive exercise that ensures the first few years of marriage are often dedicated to settling debts related to the wedding. The parents have to bear in mind that once having gotten married we need a house in which to live. Why should they then impoverish us before we even leave the mark?
I’m just not sure if this practice, in its current form, is of much help to society. I think our elders need to interrogate thoroughly their motives when they determine the lobola amounts or even be so brave as to question the relevance of the practice today.
A good friend, Humbulani, generously pointed out that we’ve got to pay because she bears the children and takes care of them. This assertion falsely assumes that every man wants to have a carbon copy of himself walking around.
And if they do revel in the pleasure of having miniature versions of themselves walking around, I know a few of these men that do change nappies and feed their babies. Humbulani wouldn’t agree with me either when I asked her if that demotes the male species to mere sperm donors.
These are men who do not take marriage as a way out of making their own supper or washing their own clothes. They understand the role of dishwashers; they duly and gladly invest in one. He marries her because he loves her, because if he were to continue living, he’d want this special girl alongside him all the time.
I doubt telling me you had to school your daughter, paying for the best schools for her is hardly reason enough for demanding such high fees. I do think that it is very much your responsibility to educate her. Why should I then reimburse you? You know, my parents did do something about my education as well. What’s so shocking is that some of the girls sometimes support these extortionist antics … going as far as saying that they are worth a lot more. I beg to differ baby, you are worth a whole lot more than any amount of money ever could buy – priceless and invaluable!
I’m out – off to save for lobola.