Lobola: A Ritual Gone Berserk

The other day I read an article that someone had been charged lobola that was in the region of USD50 000.  In my opinion such insanity signals the beginning of the end for one of our long standing rituals.

In present day Zimbabwe a man’s income is now a factor that is considered by some families of the bride. The suitor’s job, the model of his car, where he lives, how he dresses and so on serve as components to a barometer that is used as a measure of the bride-price to be charged.

This was not always the case; because lobola or the bride-price was at its core meant to bond families, a ritual showing commitment and respect amongst other things. In fact, some tribes and families in Zimbabwe don’t insist on the bride-price. However there are those who still insist on it and are doing so in a big way. I guess something happened between 1980  and ESAP (Economic Structural Adjustment Program, the ill-conceived World Bank program which was initiated in the early 1990s).

Over the years, it seems as if as the economic situation got worse, the bride-price figures got more ludicrous and requests equally shocking. Demands for cellphones, home theatre systems, DSTV and roofing for unfinished houses became common. If the prospective groom lives in South Africa, USA, or Harare North (England), he will probably pay a wee bit more. People have really taken the PRICE in bride-price to another level.

As much as we want to hold on to this ritual the future is not looking too good for it. No one really knows the formula to Lobola and families now concoct a method they think closely resembles what ought to be done.

I have been to a few Lobola ceremonies and I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject but I have been witness to the complete bastardisation of the whole ritual at some of these events. This has left me nothing but perplexed. To this end, I would like to say just because someone has white hair on their head doesn’t mean they know our culture. Don’t let the bastards lead proceedings.

Zimbabwean girls like doing the right thing; they like getting married and having weddings. With those expectations comes pressure from friends, family and society to do the right thing. On the other hand young men look at the financial expectations and are willing to hold off the whole Lobola thing for a while. Men know that after lobola comes the white wedding, maternity fees, diapers prams and baby food.

At some point a guy will get a call or email from the aunt or elder sister inquiring about when he is going to “do the right thing”.  That in my view is unnecessary pressure and in fact out of order. Some men yield to such pressure while some men pay no attention to it or just find the excuse to exit the relationship.

Zimbabwean men, even the most traditional are now looking to other nationalities in order to skip the whole drama surrounding Lobola. Why have sleepless nights?  I haven’t even spoken about the drama and bills that comes with the white wedding.

As far as bride-price payment is concerned, it may continue in this chaotic manner or it will come to an end. Methinks the latter will happen but I could be wrong. For those of my sisters who want to do the whole lobola and settling down thing, my thoughts are with you on this one. Hang on Mr Right will come and “do the right thing”.

By the way I am waiting expectantly for my call from an aunt or older sister.