Wives, please don’t pay your own lobola

Wives, please don’t ever pay for your own lobola, warn relationship strategists Mo and Phindi in their column for Weekend Post today


We had a very bitter lady as one of our recent clients. She had been dating this guy for over five years and they have two children together. They cohabited, against advice from her parents.

In addition to the fact that she came from a wealthier family than his, she earned much more money than he.

He really wanted to marry her. However, her family asked for way more than he could afford in lobola such that the R10 000 he had in savings was a fraction of the lobola required.

He asked her for help by taking out a loan under her name since he would not be approved for the required amount, and promised to service the loan in instalments. She did it, as she not only wanted to formalise their relationship but also wanted to save him the embarrassment with her family. She loved him dearly, and couldn’t imagine her life without him. She paid for her own lobola.

He paid her back for the first four months, but then just stopped on the basis that he couldn’t afford to service the debt. She had to carry on servicing the loan to the bank since it was in her name. She completed the service within two years.

Things unfortunately didn’t work out between them. She said very often during conflicts, he would repeat to her how she had paid her own lobola, “and that’s how desperate for marriage you were”, he would say. After four years, their marriage was dissolved.

Her parents didn’t want to have anything to do with him and insisted on paying him back “his” lobola money. And he never refused the refund. Saving herself the embarrassment from her family, she never divulged that she had paid her own lobola.

When he received the refund, he still did not pay her back. She was extremely hurt, not so much by the money owed to her, but by the fact that she had paid her own lobola.

Lobola is one of the most sacredly held cultural practices in our country, irrespective of how much the couple is urbanised and progressive

It is a demonstration of how much the girl is valued by both sides of the families. It denotes respectability, worthiness and appreciation.

The custom is aimed at bringing the two families together, developing mutual respect, and showing that a woman’s future husband is capable of financially supporting his wife. Traditionally, if lobola was not paid, it showed that the family did not approve of the marriage.

As a valued person in marriage, the woman is given away under mutual agreement between the two families. It’s not a buying or selling transaction as it may be misinterpreted in some quarters. The gift of lobola raises the value attached to her both as a person and as a wife.

Lobola starts the process of marriage. It’s is an expression of honour to the parents but also an undertaking of responsibility by the spouse. Paying lobola shows commitment on the part of the groom and it is a serious demonstration of the love of the man for the woman.

However, the bride isn’t supposed to have anything to do with lobola. When a woman contributes towards her own lobola, it takes away so much. Not only does it go against the traditional practice, but it’s also a matter of principle. It breaks the integrity of the principle.

We seldom come across men who are unwilling to pay lobola. There are plenty, however, who are unable to afford it. And in the universal African culture in South Africa, a man who is unable to pay lobola isn’t ready to be married. The temptation for many women is to help him out. This becomes more real if she displays better financial prudence and discipline than he does.

There are marriages that worked well after the bride contributed to her own lobola but they are few and far in between.

If lobola means something to your family it is always advisable to give the man space to demonstrate his readiness to be married. It’s our further suggestion that the bride encourage him to save or even consider taking a second job, if needs be, in order to meet the lobola obligations. She may also help him structure a savings plan if necessary. But she must never make any financial contributions to the savings herself.

She will always be amazed at how she appreciates him just knowing that he’s willing to do anything to be with her in marriage. As a woman, you feel honoured, and your parents feel respected. And honour and mutual respect are good building blocks for a healthy marriage as well as good relations between the families going forward.

However, we wouldn’t recommend that she paid or even contributed a cent towards her own lobola. It’s just not worth the possible challenges after the wedding. Let it be his sole responsibility.

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