Lobola is simply degrading to women

2011-01-31 10:16

The practice of paying and ­receiving “bride price” comes down to the sale and purchase of “reproductive rights”, and needs revisiting.

This was the conclusion my friends and I reached over the festive season, or wedding season, as it were.

We applied cold and simple logic.

If one of us was to corrupt our ­girlfriend – get her into drugs and ruin her life – the worst that could happen would be suffering the consequence of being hated by the girl’s father (assuming she is not raised by a single mother).

However, if one of us got a girl pregnant before wedlock, the girl’s father would demand that ­“damages” be paid.

This means that any other ­transgression, regardless of how grave, would merely be frowned upon.

However, fiddling with these reproductive rights before they are paid for would be met with financial penalties.

Being now of marrying age made the debate timely, largely by default of time and place – being born into Africa as cherished age-old traditions arrive at the intersection with modernity and its less noble features, including the corrupting force of capital on traditions.

But as all debates go, some among us felt that it was unfair to apply such cold logic to an age-old tradition.

After all, we were raised to ­understand that lobola is a sacred rite of passage, a way for young men to prove that they qualify to take a wife and can provide for her.

The more spiritually inclined ­argued that cows were sacred and that lobola was meant to bring the two families’ ancestors together.

But these views didn’t ­acknowledge that in most families these days, it’s the wives or women who are the breadwinners and provide for their husbands.

Worse still, the modern ­economic conditions are such that some women help their would-be husbands to pay for their own bride price.

And only a very privileged few still use actual cattle.

The ceremony has become a spectacle of bargaining skills, with the girl’s finer characteristics cited to demand a higher going price – that she hasn’t had illegitimate children, that she has great ­cooking skills, that she is well ­educated.

Could one possibly ­objectify women any more than this?

Take places like Uganda, where little girls are removed from school so that they can get married as soon as possible and obtain the bride price, including cows, sacks of rice and even cash.

And because they have been bought, many young girls are forced to accept polygamous ­marriages, and thus have no right to deny their husbands sex – even if they suspect he is HIV-positive.

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