Tafi Mhaka: Is lobola outdated?

By Tafi Mhaka

Tendai is deep in love with Bongi and happily embedded in a long-term relationship. He has a superb job in the marketing department of a radio station in Bulawayo and drives a neat car and dresses well.

It is what it is: he is a man on the up and up and Bongi has raised the idea of them getting married in the near future. Should he want to make a lifetime commitment to Bongi, the fun-loving and beautiful woman he loves profoundly, he must marry her.

Should he want to have her hand in marriage, he has to pay lobola first. Tendai has his apprehensions though: he does not want to pay lobola at all. He does not buy into the idea of paying lobola for Bongi, because he believes a woman should not be sold off.

But should he be forced to pay for a lifetime of love and warmth and happiness, he is keen to pay an amount of money that could be described as chickenfeed in some households: he plans on paying less than US$200 in cash for his future wife and not a dollar more.

Bongi, who has a fair idea of the amount of money her elders might want Tendai to pay as lobola, remains adamant that he must pay lobola for her, and has said that her lobola payment will likely be in the region of US$6000.

Tendai is hardly 27-years-old. Like his peers, he has big plans for the future. He completed his studies at NUST not long ago and wants an excellent start in life. He wants to start working towards establishing a comfortable home for his family.

Would paying five thousand dollars for the right to marry Bongi be the perfect start for him in life? He feels it would be disastrous for his finances and confidence. Should he make a firm commitment to pay five thousand dollars as lobola, his measly savings will not suffice.

So he would have to borrow money from family and friends – or secure a high-interest loan from a financial institution. This type of debt will set him back for a number of years and make it harder for him to achieve his lifetime goals.

He has other fears, as well: what would happen if Bongi left him for another man after one year of marriage? Would her father return the money he had paid as lobola? He doubts it.  So Tendai would have a lot of heartbreak and debt management concerns to deal with almost simultaneously if the much discussed marriage were to fail.

That is the way it is in Zimbabwe for men who have to pay lobola. But is the tradition of paying lobola a biased system and should lobola be modified to suit the new realities of life in 2017? Could lobola be a part of a traditional and patriarchal system that should be done away with forever?

I cannot grasp why lobola should be an indisputable tradition. I acknowledge that it is important for the family of the bride to build a firm relationship with the family of the groom. Nonetheless, I simply do not appreciate how a six thousand dollar lobola payment comes into the fray.  Traditionalists claim that a man must pay lobola because the children from a marital union belong to their father. However, courts have the final say on custodial matters in this day and age.

Were the demands of lobola non-monetary and high in symbolic and traditional significance, I would support the custom wholeheartedly.  Were the demands of lobola not a form of payment for a woman, I would be a firm believer in the practice.

But the payment of lobola nationwide often results in mannish entitlement: a man will say and do certain things for he believes he has paid for the right to do so. So a man will beat and apparently discipline a woman, because the payment of lobola seems to infer that a man is the natural head of his household, and whatever he says or does, whether potentially beneficial or downright destructive for the wellbeing of the family, simply goes.

But paying lobola is not all a young man like Tendai has to worry about. Many families expect a potential son-in-law to fork out a small fortune to pay lobola and hold a white wedding as well. Is that not a lot to expect from a twenty-something still making his way up the corporate ladder? The tricky part is: many families find a way to make a white wedding a non-negotiable clause in the lobola agreement.

So many men – this includes fathers and uncles and brothers – take lobola negotiations so seriously because they see it as a potential money-spinner: a huge and rewarding payday for the big men of the house.

Lobola enthusiasts often say a man should be compensated for the wonderful work he has done raising his daughter. I believe a pat on the back or a strong handshake should do just fine honestly.

No man must be paid for raising his daughter. No man should be paid for caring for his flesh and blood.

No man should be compensated in any small or big way for sending his daughter to school or university. You should not put a price on fatherly or motherly love and support.

No man or woman should be paid for raising a girl into a fine and respectable woman. It is the normal thing to do in society. It is what responsible men and women are expected to do.

No man should get a cent for raising his baby girl: no, no, no. He should not get a single dime: raising a child is the manly thing to do.

For no man is paid for raising his boy into a man.

Why should he expect any different for raising his baby girl into a woman?

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