Lobola app maker eyes money-making opportunity

The Lobola Calculator app 'works out' how much a potential bride is 'worth'. (Gareth van Zyl)
The Lobola Calculator app 'works out' how much a potential bride is 'worth'. (Gareth van Zyl)

Johannesburg - A South African made mobile app that calculates the lobola price for a bride has been downloaded over 23 000 times on Android devices.

And the app's maker now plans to sell the calculator app on BlackBerry and Apple iOS marketplaces at a price of R10 or less.

Lobola traditionally involves a man’s family approaching a woman’s relatives to propose marriage and to negotiate a bride’s price. Historically, the custom was paid in livestock, but in modern South Africa it can include other goods and money.

Tapping into this custom, Robert Matsaneng released his free Lobola Calculator app on the Google Android store in October 2014. Since then, the app has notched up 23 900 downloads, Matsaneng told Fin24 on Monday.

The app uses variables such as age, height, weight, waist size, attractiveness, qualifications, employment status and whether or not a woman has children to calculate a bride’s ‘price’. The application also allows men to be scored in a similar way.

Amid the success of Lobola Calculator, Matsaneng has decided to put a price on his app and launch it for BlackBerry and Apple iOS users by the end of February 2015.

“I am going to release on iOS and Blackberry app stores,” Matsaneng told Fin24 by email.

“There will be a price (R10 or less); half the revenue will be donated to a charity. Am going to add more questions and features, then we’ll try to do a ‘ice bucket challenge’ thing for the charity,” he said.

Matsaneng said he developed the app for fun.

“I developed the app for mainly laughs actually; I think it’s a fun exercise and that people who are not part of the culture can get a taste and perhaps want to know more about the culture. I did not develop it to replace the culture in anyway,” he told Fin24.

He added that he is also surprised by the attention his application has received after the Lobola Calculator has been covered widely in the press and on broadcast channels in South Africa and abroad.

“I’m happy that it has sparked conversations about our tradition, locally and internationally,” he said.

Criticism

However, the Lobola Calculator has also faced criticism for allegedly being sexist.

Karissa Samuel, who runs a project called GEm (Girls Empowered), has voiced her opposition to the app.

“I think that anything that further entrenches the stereotype that a partner is valued on their physical appearance is damaging to women and girls,” Samuel told Fin24.

“It sets unrealistic expectations, hurts self esteems, teaches men to measure women by their looks, not their brains.

“That being said, I am very aware that qualifications are part of the equation when calculating a woman's lobola ‘value’, however, there are many accomplished, phenomenal women who had no opportunity to further their education and built their success with an academic attachment,” she said.

But Samuel said while she believes that “as long as there is lobola, there should be the freedom to create an application”, she thinks the app “is just another culturally derived discrimination that we need treat with caution”.

Critics of the app have also taken to Twitter to hit out at the app.

Matsaneng, in turn, has responded to the criticism.

“I feel that people who say the app is sexist must ask themselves whether their problem is with the app or the perceived culture of lobola,” Matsaneng told Fin24.

“Also how is it sexist if it calculates for both male and female? I didn’t invent the culture, I merely made something that echoes how the culture is perceived and perhaps the perception is misguided, now here is the opportunity to guide us,” he said.

Tell us about your views of the Lobola Calculator app. Do you think it's sexist or not and why?

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