It isn’t called your “big day” for nothing. It often takes months to years of saving and planning the invitations, venue, flowers, dress, photographer, catering and music. You want everything to be just right for this special day but what if you are still held back by the hefty price of lobola?Lobola, the bride price traditionally paid with cattle in the African cultures, has over the years increased to exorbitant amounts which has led many couples to opt to cohabit considering the economic state of our country at present. It has become the norm for families to charge at least R60 000 for lobola, which history Professor Jabulani Maphalala, who is also a former lecturer at the University of Zululand, has argued should never be the case.Maphalala estimated that at least 60% of South African black couples were opting to “live in sin” because it is simply too expensive to go through the process of marriage.Maphalala said the tradition of ilobolo, which dates back to 300 BC, was paid as a “token of honour to a woman who was chosen to build the home”. “A man alone is not capable of building a home. It is the duty of the woman to build a home and that’s why women are honoured with the payment of lobola.”Maphalala said there was no set price or amount of cows set for lobola. He said it was Theophilus Shepstone, a British South African statesman, who took it upon himself to set what the “bride price” should be in 1859. “Shepstone decided that each cow should be £5. Eleven cows for an average woman, 15 for a chief’s daughter and 30 cows for a king’s daughter.“This goes against an African proverb that says ‘umuntu akathengwa’ [a person is not sold or for sale].“In our black culture, people could get married after a goat was produced or without even paying anything. It used to be acceptable for the families of the couple to sit down and agree that the wedding could go ahead without any payments because the main aim is to build good relations between the two families.”Maphalala said people had held on to what Shepstone said, which is wrong and is not the culture of black people. “People are not educated about our culture and are practising something totally unknown to us. People now sell their daughters by expecting R50 000 for lobola claiming that their daughters went to expensive universities. That’s when young men say ‘no, this is too much’ and opt to not get married at all. “There have been many cases where couples could not be together just because the potential groom could not afford to pay the steep lobola. I can estimate that at least 60% of our children are cohabiting because they love each other but simply do not have the finances to start the marriage process. This should never be the case,” he said.Maphalala advised people to not use lobola as a “money-making scheme” as young couples end up in debt after marriage.“Families that charge high prices for their daughters are undermining their daughters by reducing them to objects on sale. You can’t be charging someone’s son for the money you spent educating your daughter. He did not love her for her education and imposing those expenses interferes with the couple’s relationship. Stop this trend,” he said.A local woman (30), who asked not to be named, told Weekend Witness that to her, lobola was an “ultimate deal breaker” because without it, your marriage is said to be “invalid”.The woman said she lives with her boyfriend of eight years and their two young children. “As a young couple we feel that lobola robs young families of the chance to raise their children together and making collective decisions regarding the upbringing of their children.”As a cohabiting couple, the woman said they have the assurance that their children are raised in a decent home with both parents present in their lives.“Most kids born out of wedlock, especially in our black communities, are raised by their grandparents or single parents since a young woman is culturally not allowed to cohabit prior to lobola negotiations,” she said.The woman said they were fortunate that both their families were open-minded and accepted that their priority right now was to provide for their children. “Between paying school fees, saving for future education, investment policies, car insurance, rent and many other monthly expenses, it is a financial strain to come up with R60 000 for lobola and still be able to set aside around R30 000 for gifts. We see it fit to invest towards our future at this stage, to build a home for our girls and then worry about the rest later.“If lobola was not such a big deal in our culture, we would be married by now but we do understand the importance of it and we will follow the rules,” she said.A young man (28) said he saw lobola as a “token of appreciation to my bride’s family for raising the woman who will help me build my home”. “As a man you cannot just expect to take someone’s daughter without paying anything because you won’t appreciate her and it will be easy for you to walk out of the marriage when things aren’t going well,” he said.He said there were some families who use lobola as a money-making scheme but said it all depended on the families.He said he was still in the process of saving up for his lobola which he estimated might take him close to a year.For ukucela, where the male’s family introduces themselves to the woman’s family and expresses their intentions, he said he parted with just under R12 000 and reckons that it was a reasonable amount.“It was agreed that I have to pay the family seven cows and they wanted actual living cows instead of money.”He estimated that each cow would cost him about R6 000 which will be around R42 000.“All in all they wanted 11 cows but we negotiated that the four remaining cows be paid when we get married so that they contribute as food for the wedding celebrations.”He said his family has been helping him where they can but were careful not to contribute too much as his “strength as a man” needs to be evident.“This whole process needs to be your efforts because as a man you cannot expect to be given a wife for free because that way you won’t appreciate her that much. This is an important stage in a man’s life as it shows that you are a grown and responsible man,” he said.A young engaged couple, Nokwanda Khumalo and Nathi Mlambo, both agreed that lobola was important and helped them bring their families together.“It is good for our families to go through this and for my partner to show my family that he is willing to do anything for me. Also, he has to remember the money spent just for him to call me his wife,” said Khumalo.Mlambo said he was for lobola because “it is our culture and it was a platform for me as a man to show my wife’s family how much she means to me and that I am willing to do whatever it takes to have her as mine”. He said it took him months to save after the decision he had made to take a step of “growth and of being a man”.“I had to cut the unnecessary things out. I spent less money on entertainment and I did all that for the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”Khumalo said when Mlambo asked for her hand in marriage it came as a “pleasant surprise” to her as she was not even aware that he had been saving up for her lobola.So far, Mlambo has paid the lobola and they have also done the umembeso celebration. The young couple said they were hoping to get married next year but have not committed to a date yet.Social media users have been applauding women, featured in the new reality show Marry Me Now SA, for taking their relationships to the next level by asking for their partners to marry them on the spot.The reality show allows women, tired of waiting, to pre-plan their dream weddings in just three days and then surprise their partners with a proposal while wearing their wedding dresses. So, one can’t help but hold their breath in anticipation of the answer. On the three episodes already aired, the main concern for the families involved was always the issue of the unpaid lobola.In two episodes, the elders of the families did not seem to mind that the women were the ones initiating the marriage, but the common question in both episodes was “How can you get married without him paying lobola for you?” Fortunately, both men agreed to marry the women at the end, both promising that they would eventually pay lobola. In the last episode, the woman was left embarrassed but determined to stay in the relationship after her partner said no to her proposal. Commenting about the reality show on Twitter, Nolitha Bongo said: “Guys, do you see that our [boyfriends] want to marry us but money is a problem.”K-D Penyu said: “I have serious respect and admiration for the ladies who will be on #MarryMeNowSA going against ‘societal norms’ to dismantle patriarchal ideas on marriage, shows serious guts and courage.”Thabo Kubeka said: “I don’t understand how I’d feel waking up in the morning with people at the gate [saying they are here for my wedding]. Is it still woman empowerment or ukuhlanya [madness]?Lebohang Monyai said: “The way the underlying socio-economic issues in #MarryMeNowSA are being revealed, common amongst the average South African, and yet LOVE being the conquerer is the pinnacle of its power!”Alberta Icestein said: “Guys why, week in and week out, do families insist on keeping two people who love one another apart because someone hasn’t paid. Especially where kids are already present ...”Lizelle Williams said: “But I think this show should approach people who have already paid lobola. The way it is, it’s like they are disrespecting our African culture.”Nosipho Siswana said: “Cohabitation isn’t allowed in our culture, but these couples still do it. Why are they going on about lobola? Double standards …”Grace said: “#MarryMeNowSA gets on my nerve. First apartheid disregarded our culture. Then the church disregarding our culture. Now we have TV shows that disregard our culture.”Introverted Extrovert said: “It won’t be nice later on in the marriage when the guy tells you that ‘I didn’t marry you, I didn’t even pay lobola.” The show is aired at 7 pm every Friday on DStv channel 103.