"Another form of injustice, like slavery": An African father shares his opinion of lobola
I am as African as they come, kinky hair and all that, length and height in appropriate places.
My grandfather bought my grandmothers. You got that right: I had two. As the saying goes an apple does not fall from the tree, and my father bought himself 3 wives.
Our African culture allows a husband to buy as many women as his riches could allow him. He paid cash for my mom, I'm not sure though what the terms and conditions were when he purchased my stepmothers.
Must read: "Senseless tradition": Parent’s share their thoughts on hospital circumcision vs traditional initiation
Why do I keep on saying buying?
Here is a not so off-the-mark definition of lobola: it is a legal way of trading female human beings for cows, or other material things, money included.
Since time immemorial in African culture, a girl child has been a source of wealth to her parents, not because of her brains but instead her body. Her father benefits more since he is the one who manages the lobola proceedings.
Modern African men might want to dispute this, but when we are by ourselves at social gatherings, for a man to be considered rich or a real man, he should have sired an heir for his lineage to continue and should have many female children – the latter for return on the investment made when he married their mother.
At such gatherings, the opinions of the man who would have been so unfortunate to not have sired an heir are not considered, his inputs in conversations are not given much attention. This is regardless of him being educated or whatever post he holds in life.
Correcting the errors
In cases like that he can only be advised to take/buy another wife who will be able to provide him with an heir, and if the recently purchased wife fails to bear him a male child (as if it’s a one way thing) he is culturally and legally allowed to purchase another woman.
Who in turn is expected to do what the first or other wives failed to do. Believe me, there was a certain man who had seven daughters from two wives, he went on to buy another woman. Fortunately, the third wife corrected the errors of the other two wives.
Lobola, a once off payment of another human being, is just the same as buying a car or an iPhone, and it is up to the buyer to do as they want with their purchased thing.
One might drive his car recklessly without servicing it, akin to abusing and not caring for their wife. You can’t keep on using your iPhone regardless of the cobwebbed screen and expect it to keep on performing as in its original state, which is much like to not accepting that a woman’s body will never be the same after giving birth to your offspring.
For most African men, it is a woman’s fault that she is having her menstrual cycle.
Also read: Just because it's my culture, does it make it right?
Lobola as another form of injustice like slavery
As modern African fathers, or parents to be precise as women also take part in lobola proceedings, we should consider lobola as another form of injustice, like slavery or any other violation subjected upon our fellow human beings.
We would be wise and considerate to do away with buying and selling women under the guise of lobola.
I asked around: “If lobola paying is scrapped off, what effect will that have on women?” Two answers stood out:
Only men will suffer the losses
“No effect at all, because we do not spend our own lobola, so it’s (men) who will suffer the losses.” – Tate
So true. Does a car or an iPhone ever get the chance to spend money used to purchase it? No, impossible.
Lobola proceedings reminds me of a time I accompanied my father to buy an ox at the market. My father negotiated the price, trying to pay as little as possible, while the seller tried to maintain his asking price. They later reached an agreement, but all this happened without the beast’s approval or disapproval.
Likewise, parents and potential in-laws haggle over the child's selling price in her presence, and she does not have a say at all.
Lobola paid retains female dignity
“It will take away the respect from me as a married woman, the man might as well go and pick a prostitute and make her his wife.” – Leo
Simply said, a woman cannot say she is married when no form of payment was made to her parents. She feels that having lobola paid retains her dignity. Her opinion is correct.
Our African society has no mercy when it comes to women involved in the old trade of prostitution. Personally, I have seen happy women involved in that trade, and equally miserable and ill-treated women.
Lobola or no lobola, a woman will always be dignified: most of them are born with dignity anyway. Lobola doesn’t guarantee the husband’s faithfulness or that he won’t buy another woman, nor will the lack of it reduce a woman’s value.
“Now your cows are back”
Myself being blessed with a daughter and a son; I will not exchange my daughter for beasts and no money can ever be enough to buy her.
When my daughter was born, one relative of mine said “Now your cows are back.” We are no longer that close with that relative.
How will I avoid it, if her husband wants to pay lobola?
Firstly, I will make sure my daughter will never have to depend on any man for material things, by equipping her with the right education.
Secondly, it’s in my power to accept or reject lobola for my daughter. I would rather ask my potential son-in-law to invest the funds for the future their coming children.
Some cultural practices are enemies of progress
A different case for my own son, most probably, as I imagine his future in-laws would want to sell him their daughter.
Why would he pay lobola when I, his father, is against it? Because the stance I am taking is/will be the first of its kind, which will make it difficult for my son to find in-laws with the same view.
If it ever happens that he has no option but to pay lobola, I will not be taking part in the proceedings, but will still love him as my son and will respect his wife.
Some cultural practices are enemies of progress. We’re living in a dynamic and ever-changing world and that said, why can’t we move with the times?
Share your story with us, and we could publish your letter. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
- From Cameroon to Nazi Germany: An in-depth look at parenting practices around the world
- Local is lekker: You'll love these South African parenting podcasts
- "What is your biggest regret about how you raised your kids?": Parenting advice from moms and dads who've been there