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How much is your daughter?

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.


  • http://none Lyndall Beddy

    In both African polygamy and Muslim polygamy – labola/dowry is often a means of “selling” the daughter to fund a wife for a son, and poor parents get better prices for pretty young girls from rich old men.

    Muslim Example: “The Bookseller of Kabul”

    African Example: “The Life and Times of Daniel Lindley”

    But it also happens in Mormon polygamy in the USA, which is framed totally that so the old men get the young girls. Read the book “Escape” by Caroline Jessup.

  • livhu

    You are on point there bro, I also think is unfair to a young man who must still provide shelter for the woman and take care of the kids. Often most of this girls they do not even support the man, they take all the money to their parents on top of the high price the guy has paid for here.

  • Tshepo

    Couldn’t have said it better myself, i’m in that predicament myself, saving for that priceless one

  • Bernpm

    Who are we, whiteya, to comment on African culture issues?? :-)

  • Mpedi

    It flows upstream and downstream, this river. On the one hand many a family anticipates the so called “knocking” (the commencement of the lobola process) because in reality it results in empty pockets becoming less empty. Given the financial state of the average South African family, it is not absolutely ridiculous to cash in on dowry money (distribution of wealth amongst our own, not too bad). On the other hand reality sucks for the young couple as the wedding of their dreams will cost them sleepless nights, anxiety, hightened self criticism and the nail in the coffin… a hundred to two hundred thousand Rands for a decent 10 hour wedding and 2 weeks of sweet love . Darn it!! now all your money and your overdrafts are gone. The credit bureau is aware of you now, you better drink you honey moon champagne sparingly so as not to need to borrow another bottle of wine to be enjoyed with your beloved… such is the status quo. It is not unreasonable to challenge it, but please, marry your lover, this co habitation trend is not the way.

  • podile

    Whatever u have is always enough for lobola. That’s the first princple. The second one is that we should get what the girl is worth. Somewhere in there should be a balance. So I make the case for lobola done properly

  • CMoon

    Is there any real difference between the practice of lobola and the Western practice of buying an expensive (and unnecessary) bauble, the engagement ring. Has the west not imprinted this purchase as ‘proof’ that the husband can support the wife financially, yet very often crippling him in the process? Ensuring his ‘enslavement’ to the whole loan/consumerist system.

  • Stephen Browne

    To me it would make sense if the parents demanded the man have RXX.XXX before he marries their daughter, not to give to them, but to support their cherished offspring. Even then sounds a bit patronising to say the least. But I will stop there, as comments on ‘cultural practices’ are usually not welcome in this country.

  • Just a thought

    I suspect that the parents were themselves subject to lobola payments/payouts and now they think it’s their turn to benefit. I suppose one can’t blame them. Logically it costs the same – perhaps even more – to raise and educate a son, and a woman cannot bear children without a man so i’m not sure how the “costing” argument works. Im genuinely curious – does the woman’s family consider a reduced lobola if the prospective son -in-law is highly degreed/ successful? Surely the woman would be benefitting then?

    In my culture the woman’s family is supposed to pay for the wedding, but nowadays many young couples marry once they are much older, independent and out of the house, and so they often pay quite a bit towards their own wedding. Actually, in my experience, most young people and their families approach wedding as a team effort. If we don’t like the prospective son or daughter-in-law we will generally say so, but ultimately we would probably let our children make their own decisions and live with the consequences. My pre wedding talk with my parents comprised the fact that I had made my bed and I would need to lie in it and that as a couple we (and not they) would have to resolve our own problems. We should therefore never let the sun set on our differences. Wise words I think.

  • http://none Lyndall Beddy


    Whities had the same culture until very recently – only the men married the women for their dowries; especially rich American heiresses marrying impoverished British Aristocrats – including the American mother of Winston Churchill.

  • Kusta

    Lobola is a rip off. That is why I would rather have a wife that is not black.

  • Nazeer

    @ Lyndall. First off, in Islam, the correct term is “Polygyny” and not “Polygamy”. There is a difference. In Islam, we don’t sell our daughters. There is a dowry requirement in Islam and it stands at R 239.70 as of today. I don’t see people getting rich from that amount.

  • RDB

    Mmmh, its a tricky one, isn’t it? The Indian culture also has a similar culture of dowries and elaborate gift exchanges, but thankfully there are many young people out there who are discarding these notions for precisely the reasons you set out in your article.

    To some extent, I do think this is a change that women need to think hard about (speaking as a recently married woman) – if the reasons behind dowries and lobolas are to make sure your partner is self-sufficient, in this day and age there are other ways to make sure your prospective husband is going to be an equal partner in your marriage. And it is precisely because of your own worth and education that you shouldn’t require your partner to support you, because you can do it yourself. Doesn’t your worth alone negate the need for a dowry?

    Even the “recompense of financial investment” theory doesn’t hold water – are your parents going to pay you back for money you invest in them as they age? (medical bills, chronic medication, nursing homes etc – many people financially support aged parents).

    Personally, I rank a man’s willingness to wash dishes and change nappies above the size of his paycheck (but then maybe that’s just me :))

  • Ms Ann Thrope

    FFS Why are we still debating the monetary worth of a woman in the freaking 20th century!!!! DOWN with the AFRICAN PATRIARCHY!

  • MLH

    It is not my position to argue this point, so just observations:
    I t must be really difficult to practise part eurocentric/tribal tradition; perhaps families need to choose and make their choice clear before a ‘bride price’ is even up for discussion. What happens in the case of interracial marriages: does a white man pay lobola for a black sweetheart? Would the parents of a white girl even accept lobola? Or does such a marriage let the chap home free?
    Generally, the western way is to give the young the best possible opportunity to succeed: marriage should be less about the wedding and more about the life. And life can be very stressful.
    Having now brought up a son of my own, I realise that many parents virtually bankrupt themselves giving their children every possible advantage and that leaves little room for some to save a pension. Lobola for daughters may be part of that plan.
    So at least two generations should be considered, perhaps even a third if eldest daughters leave young sons to be brought up by aging parents…who gets the education? It seems that the eldest children could benefit far more than the young ones. Our young tenant is being helped financially to study by his sister and in turn expects to help a younger cousin. That seems to me an excellent place for the whole family to put any savings.
    Lobola? If we don’t get more youngsters into paying jobs pretty soon, it must surely die a natural death? To everyone’s disadvantage.

  • http://none Lyndall Beddy


    Ther is no one interpretation of Islam, any more than there is one interpretation of Christianity.

    Where is your reference for this “ONE PRICE” set in Islam for the dowry?

    I suggest you read the book “The Bookseller of Kabul” and how he bribed the poor parents of a pretty girl to marry her to him.

  • Alastair Grant

    If it’s genuinely a tradition, then a token will do – like handing over a small carving or drawing of a cow. Many cultures acknowledge their traditions through benign tokens of this kind. But if women are commodities, chattels, possessions, investments (in other words, slaves) then bargain, by all means, but don’t pretend its tradition. It’s just business.

  • The Creator

    Lyndall, you do know, don’t you, that the Norwegian who wrote that book has been accused of dishonest practices and is certainly not an expert in Islamic behaviour?

    And Kabul is hardly an average Islamic town.

  • http://none Lyndall Beddy

    The Creator

    The book was written by a woman who lived with the family, but one of our bloggers actually visited him and his bookshop and confirmed this – here on Thoughleader.

    But as a Muslim can you please explain to me why a single man and a single woman having sex is “adultery” under Sharia, or any other, law

    Also where does the “stoning to death” penalty appear in the Koran – what verse?

  • http://none Lyndall Beddy

    The Creator

    It was Conrad Steenkamp who wrote posts from Afghanistan, including visiting “The Bookseller of Kabul” – you can look him up here on Thoughtleader.

  • http://[email protected] Thembelani

    Yes you are hpothesısıng my frıend. I am Xhosa, and because ı know how much ınkomo ınye wıll cost, ı plan and budget and my famıly wıll chıp ın to assıst.. More especıally my father and ooMalume.. They do thıs wıth a posıtıve spırıt to help uMshana start hıs famıly. You know how much you wıll have to raıse and the lady ıs ın on ıt too because she want to show to her famıly that they wıll be handıng over theır daughter to a man who can plan hıs lıfe. A man who can take care of hıs famıly.. But most ımportantly, abantwana bakhe wıll always have “Aması” when vısıtıng kulomama coz ıınkomo zakubo wıll be there for theır support.
    The fact that ın the 21st century people are takın our tradıtıons and mısusıng and abusıng them does not mean they dıd not mean well. A knıfe was made tı make lıfe easy for us but some people use ıt toı kıll people. Do we advocate for the removal of all knıves. NO..
    It ıs ımportant that we respect amasıko nezıthethe of other groups for what they are. If there are people abusıng them, lets deal wıth abuse and not throw everythıng out because some stupıd famıly abused the tradıtıon.

  • Maisane Moganedi

    I personally do not find any thing wrong with paying lobola but the motive and reasons behind it. When I paid lobola for my wife, it had nothing to do with proving to anybody that I can take care of her but rather a token of appreciation to the parents that they happened to be the gateway of my wife in to this world and to open up their hearts to hand her over to me in hope that we are really committed to each other and we shall live together till death do us part.In affording my gifts to them, I am simply thanking them for taking care of what is devinely mine, for all the years before I met her and therefore the monetary value of the gifts speaks no volume. In my own opinion, lobola need not be a negotiation at all because no price other than the sacrifice on calvary can ever worth the bride. It is also true that the most of the reasons behind lobola payments are out of date and obviously ignore the changes that comes with civilisation. One could argue that, marriage according to culture has more to do with reproduction of human species than love. In this way lobola is been used as a tool of categorising people in to surnames and to advocate caltural rituals. People who practice the lobola thing, also believes that it carries power to welcome the bride in to the family and connect her with the forefathers of the family to give her children a right to carry the family’s surname in to the future. This and many more reasons, convince me that as time has changed, lobola…

  • Africa

    well I guess no reason for a white wedding or even buying a ring, if it’s all cost related

  • Shaista

    @Lyndall: I think you are a bit confused by cultural and Islamic practices. The Islamic practice is a bit different. A dowry is payable, not to the parents by to the girl getting married- I myself was paid a Kruger Rand that is given to me personally- idea is that it provides for me in an emergency (for example if I wanted to leave my husband and needed some money). Any amount can be given to the girl (emphasis on the girl getting married, not the family) subject to a minimum amount of 30 grams of silver = R293. The amount recommended subject to ones means is based on 1530 grams of silver based on what the Prophets daughter Fatima was given.
    This is based on fact and Islamic practices and is common across cultures. I understand that you are much moved by what you read in the Bookseller of Kabul- but I can only assume this is a result of cultural practices.

  • http://none Lyndall Beddy


    Is the 1350 grams of silver mentioned in the Koran? if so -which verse?

  • Qhawe khumalo

    @Lyndall, your comments seem to habour a bit of hate for Muslims,which would be disappointing for reader of this esteem paper.The author is talking about an African practice then in you drag the Islamic culture.
    By the way what has the ‘adultry and stoning’ has to do with the topic.Hhayi Cha!

  • http://none Lyndall Beddy


    The topic is “How Much is Your Daughter” and is not restricted to either Muslim or Black culture.

    And only Muslim women are stoned to death for adultery – usually because they become pregnant after rape.

    These “cultural practices” do NOT come from the Kpran, which is the ONLY book Muslims are supposed to obey!

  • Kush

    You are on point there. There seems to be a deviation from the essence of what the “lobola” means in african culture. As young men growing up, we were taught to make friendships, “umntu ngumntu ngabantu”, you are who you are because of the community. This is an exercise fo building and growing relations between two families, not punishing nor intending to be re-imbursed for past actions. Corruption manifests itself in different ways, and breeds itslef through the poverty to which we are exerted to, hence the opportunistic behaviour of putting monetary value to a human being. This then leads to families making a stock taking of the family’s future value. Disturbing it might be, we are in a world like this.

  • Azanian

    The culture of paying lobola was hijacked by Sir Theophilus Shepstone because he wanted to force young african men(in kzn in particular) to go and work for the colonists to earn money to pay lobola. In actual fact payment of lobola is not a once of thing. It is a continuos process and it’s main aim is to establish relations with your in-laws not what is done now in the name of observing tradition. Blame for this misunderstanding should be put on the shoulders of our traditional leaders, as custodians of our culture, for not clarifying this issue once and for all.

  • Mandla

    Mogale I would like you to interrogate the lobola issue from both the female and the male point of view. Your enthusiastically point out the financial burden is placed upon the young man and his family by extension. What about the financial and material contribution by the young woman and her family during the whole process from lobola to the wedding day?

    If you do not subscribe to the notion of paying lobola just say so. Stop making arguments that lack substance. Being one sided on the issue clearly proves to me that you lack the dynamic understanding of the issue and you have a personal agenda. It has got nothing to do with culture and tradition.

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  • Wedding Anthem

    Interesting article. Speaking of lobola…Have a look at the the poll on “how much is reasonable lobola” and see for yourself what others are saying. You will be surprised!

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