Love comes at a price

2017-02-19 06:00
Mthokozisi Khathi, better known as DJ Tira, alongside his bride, Gugu Khathi, celebrating umabo, which is a Zulu tradition where the families of the bride and groom exchange gifts in celebration of the union. The ceremony took place in Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Arti Projects

Mthokozisi Khathi, better known as DJ Tira, alongside his bride, Gugu Khathi, celebrating umabo, which is a Zulu tradition where the families of the bride and groom exchange gifts in celebration of the union. The ceremony took place in Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: Arti Projects

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The practice of lobola or bride price is preventing many black South Africans from walking down the aisle.

Local studies show that over the years, as lobola has become more commercialised, fewer black people are getting married.

And when those who do get married divorce quickly, lobola is blamed on the grounds that the relationships were founded on business transactions.

According to the latest data from Stats SA, there is a consistent decline in the number of people getting married in this country.

This affects all forms of marriage – be it customary or civil. In a recently released study titled Marriages and Divorces 2014, Stats SA studied 150 852 marriages registered in 2014, of which 3 062 were customary marriages and 1 144 were civil unions.

The study showed that, while fewer marriages were taking place, divorce was also on the rise. About 24 700 divorces were finalised in 2014 – a 3.4% increase from the previous year.

Of these, 37.1% of divorces involved black South Africans. While there were various reasons behind the low marriage rates and high divorce rates in South Africa, lobola appeared to be one of the major contributing factors.

The study, conducted by Dori Posel and Stephanie Rudwick of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, found that lobola contributed to delayed marriages or even refusal to marry among black South Africans. The conclusion of this latest study added to a litany of research that had arrived at similar findings.


Lobola is an age-old custom that involves the transfer of cattle from the prospective husband to the family of his prospective bride.

The main function of this custom was to offer a token of appreciation to the parents of the bride-to-be for raising her.

It also serves as a symbol of pride that their daughter would never starve when she joins her new family.

It is also a symbol of readiness for the young man to take on the responsibility of being a husband.

The problem with modern bride price, as study authors noted, is that “it has become commercialised” over the years with some parents demanding “exorbitant compensation” in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage.

This, according to the study, has resulted in delayed marriages and low marriage rates among black South Africans.

Inkosi Phathisizwe Chiliza of eMadungeni in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, who is chairperson of the provincial house of traditional leaders, said the research was spot-on because marriage had become “a rare occurrence, even in rural areas where there used to be a wedding almost every weekend”.

He said: “We lost the plot when lobola moved from being a token of appreciation to a business transaction.”

Cultural expert Masilo Lamla of the Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape agreed, adding: “The day a price tag was placed on lobola was the day this custom lost its value.”

“Lobola was never about money, but about forming a bond between two families. What we are witnessing today where people exchange large amounts of cash is something else,” Lamla said.

Chiliza said it was tragic that lobola has been turned into a “business transaction where the bride is sold to the highest bidder”.

He said he often hears of fathers demanding more money for their daughters because “they are educated”.

“What does education have to do with a woman leaving her father’s house and going to start her family with her husband? Were the parents not supposed to ensure that their daughter goes to school?” he asked.

“This is not tradition and the sooner we realise it, the better it will be for our children,” Chiliza said.

Lamla explained that in some tribal groups, a number of cows are demanded from the prospective groom.

“In today’s world, a cow can cost more than R10 000. If the family is demanding 11 cows, it means the prospective groom must pay R110 000. The majority of black South Africans cannot afford to pay such an amount,” he said.

Both Chiliza and Lamla said lobola must be reviewed. “If it continues the way it is now, our daughters will never get married,” said Chiliza.

In the days before British colonist Theophilus Shepstone imposed a figure of 11 cattle as a standard for lobola for Zulu people, five cows sufficed as the bride price.

Two cows would be for the mother of the bride, two for the father and one for the bride, Chiliza explained.

“The notion of 11 cows was introduced by Shepstone, who thought lobola was a business transaction. We need to correct this so that we can prevent further distortions by reviewing what lobola is and what parents can expect from a man when he asks for their daughter’s hand in marriage,” he said.


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