Lobola and A Woman’s Worth
Article written by Likeleli M. Monyamane.
“My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes.
No matter what I wear I will always be, the India Arie”
India Arie, musical artist
One day, I jokingly stated to my friend that my lobola value must have gone up a little after I visited my grandmother in Teyateyaneng, Lesotho and she taught me how to make apricot jam (which is actually must simpler than I imagined it to be). Lobola is a Zulu word defined as: A set amount paid by a prospective husband to the bride’s family among certain peoples in southern Africa.
The reason for my joke was because, it is generally believed that the ability of a woman to cook, clean, wash laundry, her educational background, her chosen career and the way she looks (amongst other things), determines the amount of lobola that a bride’s family can negotiate from her fiance’s family. The better her skills and looks, the more lobola can be requested.
A guy friend of mine, who I suppose has been thinking of getting married, asked a question on Facebook recently as follows:
“Just out of interest, what is the average figure for lobola? Is this figure materially different amongst ethnic groups? #managingexpectations #batteredman”. This question sparked a lot of interest among his Facebook friends and received a lot of comments.
Most of the comments were from guys saying that they also wanted to know the answer, some were people who tried to estimate the value (ranging from R20,000 to R290,000) and the rest were just outraged at how high prices were. What sparked my interest was that my friend’s response read, “… I’m not against the principles of lobola, but I’m also not stupid. I’ve studied finance for the past 8 years…(all I ask for) is ‘fair value’.
Since I read that I have not been able to sleep well. My mind has been filled with endless questions: What is the ‘fair value’ of a woman? Would the value differ if a woman was European, Indian or African? What is my ‘fair value’ as a South African woman, compared to that of a Botswana woman? Who determines this ‘fair value’?…
It is clear that society has developed its own ways of measuring the value of women (and men too, just to be fair). The black South African culture (white families do not practice lobola) values its women by using lobola as one of its tools of measurement. It is no wonder then, that women have themselves conformed to this standard of measurement. Women who have mastered the art of being career-women, being great cooks, and having good looks and hot bodies tend to walk with their heads held a bit higher than then women who cannot seem to juggle all of these at once. I, myself, am a bit lacking on the domestic side of things (I blame 80% of this one growing up in boarding school and 20% on being raised by a grandmother who really spoilt us). I have often been made to feel like I am less of a woman and not marriage material because of my lack of domestic skills. Needless to say that if a woman happens to be deformed in some way, disadvantaged, older than what is considered a reasonable age for a girl to get married or in any way not up to standards of our society then the bride’s price is negotiated in the lower ranges.
I find it sad that we have been taught and are now conditioned to base our value on external things such as the ones I have mentioned above. In fact, I find it even sadder that some African women have left it in the others care (usually the uncles sitting around the negotiation table) to decide their worth. I find it sad that even as we fight to increase women’s representation in board rooms and in various professions, previously regarded as men-only clubs, we still fail to leave behind traditions that decrease the value of women to a monetary value, dependent on factors that have nothing to do with who and what a woman is. This phenomenon is not unique to Africa though. Worldwide, women are objectified and valued according to all sorts of external measures and women worldwide have learned to accept and not question this reality.
So what is it that I consider to be the value of a woman? I believe the value of a woman, like that of a man, lies not in what she earns, how she dresses, her ability to cook, clean, do laundry, or how she looks. It is God, not man who puts value on a woman. Women are intrinsically valuable. Our value is not in the external, but it is in the essence of who we are. As soon as we are born, we all have a value that is too great to be quantified, and this value is drawn from the fact that we are created by God, in His own image – just as men are.
This is the value that we need to teach our young girls. We need to teach them that their value does not fluctuate with their choice of dress, that their ethnicity does not either diminish or enhance their value and that their worth is in them and not outside of them. We need to teach our young girls that no man (or woman for that matter) has a right to decide what their ‘fair value’ is. In fact, no amount of money can ever be a ‘fair’ enough price to put on anyone’s daughter.
So my dear lobola-paying friends, the biggest favor you can do for a girl, is to not try and negotiate a lower bride price with the promise to ‘save some money to ensure that you are able to provide her with a good home after marriage’. The biggest favor you can do is to refuse to pay lobola, out of respect for your future wife and out of respect for her parents because no amount of money could ever be enough for their daughter.