OVER the years, there have been conflicting debates about what lobola is and why this cultural practice should still be acknowledged. Perhaps it is the democratic and evolving society that has given people freewill to do things differently and to question how things were previously done. As a result, this has led to having a rebellious view that questions and discredits this sacred old practice.
While family elders may insist on cultural and traditional ways, some people are becoming resistant to the idea of lobola, often questioning why the process should happen in the first place. Couples move in together and assume the roles of ‘husband and wife’ without going through the family-driven process of lobola.
In other instances, couples go to the Department of Home Affairs to legally marry and leave it at that. Founding member of the South African Men Forum and gender activist, Mbuyiselo Botha, says it is unfortunate that lobola has in some instances been reduced to some sort of transaction without really interrogating what is indeed at the core of lobola in the first place.
WHAT IS LOBOLA?
Medical practitioner and metaphysical scientist, Zulu Mathabo, says this important cultural practice is often misinterpreted, misunderstood and overlooked. “The fundamental symbol of lobola is a cow. The life of a cow is the most important part of this process,” he says.
In the ancient times, lobola was offered with a cow because of how people lived but today the offering is in the form of money. “Words such as payment should not be used, lobola is an offering. Essentially, the woman is getting married to the ancestral family of the man. It is a spiritual affair. It is not based on material or the ring but rather, the spirituality side of things,” he says.
Mbuyiselo shares the same sentiment, adding that there is a lot of misinterpretation that happens when coming to lobola. “Lobola has nothing to do with buying. No one is being bought. Lobola has a particular cultural significance,” he says.
According to Mbuyiselo, the most important reason for it is making sure that families come together as one. “People should look at lobola in its purest form, which is making sure that the families come together without it being misconstrued,” he adds. While the core reason for lobola is to bring families together, the issue of money is also another biggest factor.
There have been stories about how some women go to the extent of giving their partners money to pay lobola for them.
ANCIENT AND CULTURAL VIEWS
Zulu says the issue of lobola is a complex one in that different cultures have different ways of doing things. He explains that in Setswana culture, rakgadi (the sister of the bride’s father) is the one who leads the delegation.
But in other cultures, for instance, in the Zulu culture, women aren’t at the forefront of the negotiations. Arguing the fact that the whole cultural practice oppresses women, Zulu says the way of doing things changes from generation to generation. Zulu explains the deep origin of lobola.
He says in ancient times, the agricultural society, was any community whose economy was based on producing and maintaining crops and farmland and that was the women’s responsibility. “Men in those times were nomads (a person thattravels from place to place) so they moved around a lot.
When they would come into a village to marry, this meant they would take the woman away from her ‘economy’ and that is why he had to make an offering as a nomad,” Zulu explains.
Zulu says nowadays there are people who abuse lobola. “There are people who still consider it as sacred but others abuse it because they don’t understand it,” he says. Zulu explains that there is beauty in seeing two families become one through a spiritual connection that is conducted through the practice. Mbuyiselo dismisses the view that lobola is meant to oppress women. “There is a clear distinction between abuse and the practice of lobola. Some men might use it as a way of ownership by mentioning things like ‘don’t forget I paid for you’.
Individuals in marriages should be able to distinguish when they are being abused,” Mbuyiselo adds. In an ever-changing society, he suggests that there needs to be continuous re-iteration and proper education of the process of lobola. “It is important to have traditional leaders, cultural experts and academic institutions teaching the society about the true beautiful meaning of lobola,” he adds.