It is a delight to be admired. A single glance across a room and acknowledgement of your presence is flattering. A guy once approached me at a random event, greeted me with the upmost respect but asked a question that stunned me: “How much would your family want for me to have you?”
Before I could respond, a man close to us laughed before he blurted, “She looks and sounds too educated. You could never afford her.”
“She is respectful,” the guy commented, “As long as she learnt be a proper wife through all that education, she might be worth it.”
There are a million responses that drifted to the tip of my tongue. Yet, I swallowed my opinion and left them to feed off each other’s thoughts. It felt like a waste to defend or validate myself. Simply because they had successfully placed a price over my head in less than a minute, and they saw nothing wrong with that. Those two men reduced the value of my company, the richness of my thinking and individualism, to someone who could be bought. Through that small encounter, I realized the problematic thinking reproduced by a traditional system. The bride price, otherwise known as Lobola.
Commonly known as an African tradition, lobola is to signify a marriage between two people. I grew to understand the custom as a way to unite the two respective families as marriage goes beyond the union of (just) two individuals. However, over the years it seems to have manifested into the commodification of people. I dare to go as far as to describe it as an auction.
As a girl, it was common for me to hear relatives and the community speak of the way I look, behave and accomplish, as building up for of marriage. Their comments were mostly delivered as jokes but always carried a similar punch-line, “We will have to charge more cows for you”. However, my brothers, were given the famous “ubuhle bendoda izimkomo zayo” (the beauty of a man is his cows) phrase. Often, it felt like training for the socially constructed roles we were expected to play. A man who could purchase a wife and a women who was to be owned (expected to be submissive to the role).
That problematic thinking followed me into the simplest interactions I had. The guys I encountered held the assumption that girls were after money, and a lack of it meant they were not worthy of companionship (even relationships). I watched them grow (mature) with less confidence, and saw them shy away from commitment. Once, a guy asked why I bothered to be kind to him when he had nothing to offer me. He refused to believe that his company was enough. My friends openly ridiculed him, by questioning why I wasted my time with a person who could not buy me (something as simple as) a drink.
On the other hand, guys who had money would flash or throw it at me whilst assuming I was a possession who could be bought. I met one who openly expressed that he would do everything for me. However, he demanded that I stop being “hardheaded and respect him as a man”. He was unacceptability disrespectful, got offended when I stood up for myself and was confused by my refusal to accept his money (or behavior). My friends were enchanted by him and pressured me to bend to his will. Their argument was that he could afford to have and keep me. It was social pressure and expectation to take home a man that would be accepted by selling myself to the highest bidder.
I am an open rebel against that kind of pressure and way of thinking. They have poisoned the traditional ideas and intentions of lobola, turning marriage into the aftermath of an auction. I say this because I have witnessed love fizzle at negations, when men cannot afford to pay what the family expects. Other times, I have listened to women coaching girls (myself included) to be respectful, humble and submissive wives for those who will afford the bride price. Also, the general tasks of cooking and cleaning were taught to ensure my worth.
The world has changed. Women are more than possessions and many acknowledge that they are able afford themselves. I often think that if a system is broken, it should be fixed. However, if it has no place, it could be time to do away with it. This could either be the system of lobola, the belief system or the patterns of thinking attached to it.
I could oppose it all I want but it does not stop it from creeping into my life. Hence, I could not blame the guy that approached me, or his new found companion, for seeing a price over my head. A small outburst of rage would not change years of teaching or a problem that is far bigger than that random encounter. It will always be a delight to be admired. I dream of getting married but I refuse to be bought.
Do you think society is obsessed with beauty? Read one writer’s opinion here
Tell us: Do you think lobola has a place in modern-day society? Why or Why not?