Regulate Lobola or Scrap It. Klaar!

Kopo Robert Matsaneng, described on the SABC’s Morning Live as a techno boffin, is a software developer hailing from Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa. Matsaneng came to the nation’s attention earlier this year after developing an application that calculates the price of lobola, aptly named the Lobola Calculator. It goes without saying that the application has caused quite a stir around the country, given that lobola has always been a contentious issue in this society.  On April 13, 2013 I published a piece here titled The Misconception of Lobola, explaining the purpose of lobola or at least I thought I did, and how it has now degenerated to a get rich quick scheme. Almost two years later I am back, perhaps to pick up where I left off and unapologetically condemn the age-old custom of lobola to death. The uncles and their nieces will not appreciate this but constantly arguing about how much one is willing to cough up for a wife is a topic that is taking too much of our time away from important matters, like founding a company, building a lasting legacy and so on. Frankly speaking, that is time we do not have. As sad as it may be it is about time we bury this ‘time-honoured African tradition’.

It had been a while since I last saw or heard a serious debate on lobola and how ridiculously pricey a bride is these days, not that she is being sold. Matsaneng’s brilliant application put the debate back into the national psyche and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter came to a sudden halt. I am not really sure about WhatsApp since its conversations take place in shadows and shady corridors I do not frequent, but I imagine the arguments were equally intense. I had the pleasure of observing some ladies amongst us, pulling their hair or some stranger’s hair from Asia and South America, questioning the merits of programming algorithms. Clearly they took exception to the application calculating a number they did not find appealing. Granted, the application could do with some tweaking but I could not help engaging in a little chuckle. If it helps, those who were offended by Robert Matsaneng’s Lobola Calculator should know that he was just having fun. He did not mean to upset anyone. I, on the other hand am glad that this topic has been raised and once again occupies the national dialogue. If lobola cannot be regulated then it should be scrapped.

It is quite preposterous that in the 21st century a man still has to pay a fee, a ridiculous one at that, to marry someone who claims to love him. As much as it is not questioned, the custom holds us back as a people. Senile uncles are in cahoots with their deceitful nieces to drive up the lobola prices to service their fragile small egos just because the groom happens to sit on the board of Anglo American or that he is tipped to become a CEO in the near future. In a century when more women can fend for themselves why is it still deemed necessary for the groom to pay lobola? Perhaps to show the bride’s family some sort of appreciation. But does the price have to be outrageously exorbitant? All this seems to me like exploitation of the highest order. Yes, in my previous article I argue that the custom of lobola symbolises a token of gratitude toward the bride’s family, but I also raised the point that it has become some sort of lottery ticket. Since then it has become worse, and some women are capitalising from this madness. It is now common to hear a conversation between women that goes something like this: ‘Nna, my friend I am worth R60 000. If he is not willing to pay that much then he should not bother.’ This from someone who probably has never earned more than R5000 in their entire life or has walked through the doors of an institute of higher learning; not that it makes it okay if she earns more or has a tertiary qualification. It is disturbing that the custom of lobola is used as a ticket to cash in.

Time is a wonderful thing, and so is logic. They both afford us a chance for introspection and reflection. Thus when time passes logic should be applied to some of our customs, traditions and values. Do they still matter? If yes, how do we make sure they fit well with the modern era? Brilliant programmers like Kopo Robert Matsaneng should be celebrated, not vilified. Not only does his innovation show the potential we have as the people of this country and continent, in this specific case, it exposed once again the greed that is at play in this society. Is it really worth practicing a tradition or abide by a value system that has clearly run its course? I will reiterate, regulate lobola or scrap it. Kgotsong!

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