Why Lobola is Not a Curse Word // Sibusiso Mdluli

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Why Lobola is Not a Curse Word // Sibusiso Mdluli

Blaque and Sbu look at why lobola is often seen as a burden not a blessing. Yet there are positive aspects we can embrace and support as Christians.


“Are we setting our couples up for a fruitful marriage where they’re not having to have conflicts over debt? Where the husband doesn’t have to be resentful to the wife and her family because he feels like, you know, we started off badly because they overcharged? And I think that’s a careful consideration we need to make. But I think what comforts me is that the process of lobola is the beginning of relationship. Not just between the couple, but their families as well. And so, that should be borne in mind by the uncles as they conduct the negotiations.”

“Hey what’s up! Welcome back to The Gospel Coalition Africa Podcast. My name is Blaque Nubon and we are at UJ today. Yeah! We are at UJ Bunting campus. Yeah. And I’m out here with Sbu. So, if you hear music and students in the background that’s what happening. We’re not partying. But I’m here with Sbu. So Sbu won’t you just introduce yourself. Tell us who you are and what you do. Where you’re from. Where were you born… OK. What’s exciting about you? Yeah. So, the most exciting thing about me is that I’m a follower of Jesus. I have committed my life to him. But I also work in Christian Ministry for REACH SA at the moment I work for Hope Church. And then we are in UJ because I do ministry at the University of Johannesburg Banting road campus. Yeah.

That’s good man. Where were you born? So, I was born in Soweto and brought up in Soweto. My family – I think – up to my grandparents – grew up in Soweto. Or Gauteng. So that’s where I’m from. Protea North in particular. I’m from a family of 2 kids. Both my parents are still alive and still together. And then my… I’ve got a little nephew. My sister’s son. Good!

For those who don’t know Soweto, can you paint a picture for us. Yeah, yeah.

A lot of people say there is a lot of cultures there. Ah yeah, yeah, yeah.

There’s a lot of languages. You guys are the biggest township in the country. Yeah.

So, some people probably debate if we’re the biggest township. They’ll say we are a combination of townships. But, I think it’s recorded that we’ve got a population, a recorded population, of more than 5 million. So it’s quite big. And then Soweto is also historically significant in South Africa. Because Mandela lived there. Tutu lived there. June 16 1976 march was there. Which was a catalyst for liberation. And there’s a lot of ethnicities who are from Soweto. So you’ll have sections that have a lot of Zulu people – where my parents grew up. Xhosa speaking people. Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, and I suppose the apartheid government demarcated certain sections based on ethnicity. Yeah, yeah. But it’s just a melting pot of a lot of cultures and ideas. So my Zulu for example, people from KZN will joke that it’s different. But I would say that it’s evolved. It is the Sowetan kind of Zulu. That’s good! Yeah.

I’ve never heard that one..

It’s what, it’s what happens to Zulu when it meets the rest of Africa!

That’s good – I’m gonna start using that man! Coz I’ve been insecure about my Zulu for a long time!

I think you just boosted my confidence.

But speaking about all these cultures that are in one place… A lot of things happened there. And there are a lot of influences. So how did you come to know Jesus? In the midst of all these influences. There is vibrancy in all these cultures…

So fortunately I grew up in a Christian family. But that’s not what makes me a Christian. But the Christian family background was my first influence and teachings on the Christian faith and the gospel. Both my parents went to a Baptist church in Meadowlands, zone 5. And through that church I got glimpses of the gospel and what it means to be saved. That you need to accept Jesus as a saviour for the forgiveness of your sins. Sure.

So the clearest gospel presentation I remember hearing. I was in primary school. Primary school age. And I was basically told that I can have an eternal relationship with God, but through Jesus Christ. If I would get into a relationship with him, or let him come into my heart. Which for kids we would understand it to mean you get into a relationship with God through Jesus. And I responded to that. But my family was crucial in clarifying a lot of Christian teaching for me. Helping me understand how although I am a Christian, I still struggle against temptation and sin. I would get frustrated at myself. But my dad, for example, would reassure me that God has indeed forgiven me. That I am indeed a born again Christian even though I still face the same struggles that any human being would face. So that church, in Meadowlands and my family was very helpful in reinforcing that Christian worldview in my mind.

That’s god bro. Praise the Lord for your parents man!

Yeah, praise the Lord indeed.

For good Christian families man.

Yeah! So speaking about your family man, they recently became one of the happiest families in Soweto!

Because you met a young lady! And you proposed. And you guys are soon to get married. Are you in the process of paying lobola? Have you paid lobola?

Yeah so…

And can you explain what lobola is for people who don’t know what it is?

So, we are engaged and the way that happened is that I spoke to my parents – a very serious conversation – about forming a delegation of my uncles and sending them to the house of the bride. Nkateko – my love! And to negotiate lobola. On their – love you! – cultural terms. And so you have more than one meeting. Coz I think in many cultures it’s considered disrespectful to just settle it at one go. Not that I would have been able to do that. But you go and the initial meeting and you find out how much is expected of you. And then you leave a kind of deposit. And so we are here to have our second meeting and then have the subsequent traditional weddings that celebrate the completion of lobola. So, we… you could say we are in the middle of it. OK.

And for those who don’t know what it is..?

Yah! So you asked me to explain or define lobola. I won’t give it a translation. I’ve heard people attempt to say it’s bride price or dowry. But you are not really buying the bride. But you  are making a payment in honour of the bride. To respect her family as a culturally appropriate way of beginning that process of marriage. And I think it shows the readiness of the couple to commit to each other. Coz it’s a demanding financial commitment. But it also begins a process of… I like to think of it as team building, between the families. Because they are getting to meet each other. They are getting to understand each other’s cultures. Because the negotiation’s got to happen in the terms of the girl that you are marrying. Nkateko is Tsonga. And we’ve got to learn a lot about them. And through those engagements my uncle reassured me that they are good people. Not just that she is a good person. So, yah, that is a… what lobola is.

  1. And I think we will get to the guts of it because that’s what I want us to chat about.

OK we are back on. Uh we just had to change our setting for technical reasons. But we are gonna continue with our conversation with Sbu. Ah so I was asking… what is lobola for? So if I’m a young, black, Christian guy. I’ve found a really pretty girl and I wanna make her my bride. And her family asks me to pay lobola… Could you frame it for us? What are… what have you know lobola to be for?

Yeah I think, to be honest, lobola is for her family to use at their discretion. So honestly, it’s difficult to tell how it’s used – or to even dictate how it should be. But my understanding is that it’s a payment like I said. You make that payment, not as a way of buying the girl, but of honouring her family. Respectfully. Showing yourself ready to take care of her. And I think they use it for the subsequent celebrations. Which… one of the ceremonies that will happen – one of the traditional weddings they will be hosting – as they say farewell to their daughter. And so it is, I guess, poured back into that celebration. But it’s really at their discretion. If they like, they might not have that extravagant a ceremony, and decide to give it back to the couple. Or in some families it might help them with whatever needs they have. Coz I’ve heard of guys explaining it as – if you are taking – in very traditional backgrounds, in rural villages – industrious women or ladies would have been contributing to the welfare and the economy of that place. And so you are compensating for them losing that valuable resource, that person. So yeah, it’s really, it’s difficult to answer. Because it would depend and vary from family to family.

But I think, just from what you are saying, the essential thing is you are not buying the bride. Because I think we’ve come to a place as a culture where lobola has been seen that way. People ask for extravagant amounts. Just coz it seems like – “yo, you asked and we’ve shaped this product for you! Yeah we are selling it! And we are selling this product to you.” So we are not buying the bride. But it is to honour the parents. And in other instances, in other cultures, they use that for the actual wedding. And like you said, thirdly it can be a way to say because… somebody who is contributing to the sustainability of the family, the wellbeing of the family, is now leaving there. Is leaving, so I’m kind of helping you guys replace that.

Yeah, so I think those are really good reasons. So, somebody who is watching this and is saying “eish! But that is not my experience.” Like you are currently in the process… They are saying “I am currently in the process, but it just feels like people are trying to grab my money and I don’t have money! I’m a young guy. I’m starting out. In terms of my work, my career whatever it is.” What encouragement would you give them that they hold on?

So, at the risk of being fined, I must just clarify that everything I have been saying in this interview is not a reflection on the process as I have experienced it. Because part of what happened as part of my lobola negotiation, is you could get fined. But I mean I sympathise with that. I do think that there are instances where it’s abused. Where uncles can ask for exorbitant prices. Where the penalty fees for not understanding the girl’s culture – you can be penalised quite heavily. And of course, if you are from a different culture, you wouldn’t know the culture. You wouldn’t know what disrespect entails. But I think what’s sad for me is where the couple that are getting married are crippled economically before they even start. And I think that is a legitimate question. That’s a legitimate reason to reconsider the practice. Is are we setting our couples up for a fruitful marriage? Where they are not having to have conflicts over debt. Where the husband doesn’t have to be resentful to the wife and her family because he feels like, you know, “we started off badly because they overcharged.” And I think that’s a careful consideration we need to make. But I think what comforts me is that the process of lobola is the beginning of relationship. Not just between the couple, but their families as well. And so that should be borne in mind by the uncles as they conduct the negotiations. My encouragement to anyone who is undergoing the process and feels aggrieved, or feels overcharged, is through the bride, to be communicating with her family and saying “this is making it difficult for us to seal this union. Let us communicate. Let’s see if we can be maybe more reasonable.” And I don’t think that’s a disrespectful thing. I don’t think that young couple are out of turn or out of their place. Speaking out of turn or out of their place. Because I think that is precisely what’s meant to happen. We are building relationship through this communication. And they will learn from your character as a couple as you take a stand. They will learn more about you. They will learn more about your love for each other. And I think that is exactly what’s meant to happen.

Yeah – that’s good bro!

Cos I think a lot of people who’ve tried to push back have met just horrible resistance. People, families saying “we’re not coming to your wedding” or “we’re cutting your off” or whatever the deal is.

And my reluctance to dismiss any of the cultural elements of the marriage, or the wedding, is because I feel it’s more than just our day. Or it’s more than just us coming together. But it is our families getting acquainted with each other. And it is our families joining us on this journey. We will need their wisdom, their experience, their guidance. Because we are getting married for the first time and we need to – in humility admit – that we will need their wisdom, their guidance. And so if you take a hard line and you take a stance that you are rejecting the practice. You are going to get married your own way. Which, by default, for a lot of us young guys tends to be the western way, it’ll be a slap in the face of your family. And it will feel like you are rejecting them and telling them to stay out of your marriage. Which, yeah, it won’t be nice. In the long run, when you need them, it will be painful and disappointing.

So I think the point of community would be probably a place to have these conversations from. Because… at least that’s what I’m getting from you as well.  Coz our faith does encourage community. We see community in the Godhead. We see Father, Son and Holy Spirit in eternal communion with each other. We are created from that. African culture is very strong on community. So I think as an encouragement that would be a point of conversation with your parents. To say, yo, think about what’s happening not just to us. So if you are the bride… not just to us as a family. It’s not like we are just getting money. But we are getting a whole community. We are getting a whole family. We are getting new people. So think about that relationship. So when you argue or negotiate with your own parents, as a bride, I think that would be a place to talk from. Coz that’s one thing they understand. So even if they are not Christians. But they understand community as black people. So saying, I think, is this beneficial for us as a community?

Tell them the situation. Of your family.

One thing I thought that’s worth pointing out is that a tricky dynamic for us… I suppose I can call them modern, or young, black Africans getting married, is that often we will have a combination of the traditional African way of getting married, but also combined with the Western or white wedding. And I think there, then, when you take the total cost it feels exorbitant. But sometimes the elders will tell you that, well, this is the marriage! What we are doing traditionally and including lobola is the marriage. What you guys wanna incorporate – this Western white wedding – that is just a modern day celebration you guys wanna include. But for us as a family to recognise you guys as married we have to include certain elements. And it is very much a conversation. You can’t dictate to them that, well – we don’t wanna include this. Because like I said it affects relationships. And so I think maybe as we consider lobola as the practice we would exclude maybe we have to consider whether we wanna exclude the white wedding. Or anything! There’s various elements to getting married. And as an African there are certain parts that are traditional to your culture, and now you try to remove those,  and your family are gonna say “but” – you know? You know, you are leaving this white wedding – we don’t quite understand that. Maybe you could look at adjusting that? So those are hard conversations we will have to have. Not just with our family and the elders, but with ourselves. And our hearts.

Sure, I think that is a valid point. Because we have tended to lean on the side of idolising the white wedding. Just because of how glamorous and extravagant it looks. And in no way are we saying that people shouldn’t dream about a wedding and whatever it is. But, maybe it… for the sake of community again, finding common ground so that you can please the families and then maybe later on, 5 years, when you celebrate God keeping you together, on your anniversary whatever it is., maybe you have that. You are really in a better financial stance. Coz that’s another thing. I think, at the heart of it, guys are saying, we start off our marriage crippled.

And it’s also crippled emotionally from the bitterness or the frustration of “look at what they’ve done to us.”


So lastly what would you say to guys who are getting married. Especially when it comes to the financial implications of all the stuff… of the wedding basically, not the marriage. Because sometimes we think the wedding is the marriage. But all the financial implications. In fact the ramifications that you’ll go into your marriage with. How would you encourage young Christians who are getting married now to re-think certain things? So that they start their marriage well off financially.

I think, first of all, save up and prepare yourselves. You know your families. And you know the likely expectations. Buy as you make decisions on what to include and what to exclude, and on how expensive or extravagant the whole process will be, you do have a lot of power. Because as you have the conversation with your family, they will ask you what do you want to include? When do you guys want to get married? And how many ceremonies? How is it going to happen? And so you will have to look back – I mean, look first at yourselves and your expectations – and make some hard decisions. On what’s necessary, what’s unnecessary. But, I think, have in mind not so much this glamorous and memorable day or occasion. But try and be considerate of the first – I suppose – few months or years of marriage as a couple. That you don’t wanna start off disputing too much over the way it happened and how much was spent. And in hindsight how many bad ideas – or what a bad idea it was – to have all these expenses and possibly unnecessary elements to the marriage. So I think communicating with each other, you know, through introspection just talking to yourself and thinking do we really need this? But also communicating with your family. Because they play, for Africans, a big part of the celebrations.

That’s good bro! I really appreciate that – thanks.

If you’ve been watching this I hope you have been encouraged by it. If you are in the process of getting married or your know people who are getting married share it with them. But at the end of the day, marriage is God’s idea. It’s a good thing and especially for young people. And so if you are in the process of getting married…

And I am looking forward to it!


So, we hope this was useful, really helpful and encouraging. And that you will really think about it. Because at the heart of what we are saying is just the financial implications for those first few years, those first few months. So think about that and hopefully you will come out with wise decisions.

And I think, just one thing for me to say is… think about the opportunity it is for you to be a witness of Christian love. Christian grace. The gospel of Christ and the things you value. Demonstrating that it’s Jesus above all. Because this is one of the few occasions where your family will congregate and take such an interest in your life and decisions that you are making. Suddenly your uncles are getting involved. You’re having conversations with them. You know, your parents are taking it seriously. You are having conversations with them. And so the way that all unfolds can either be a good or a bad witness for who you are. A disciple of Jesus.

Sure, that’s good man.

On that note thank you from us here at The Gospel Coalition. Thank you for watching the podcast. Do subscribe to our channel and check out all the other podcasts that we have. And follow us on YouTube. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and on the website. There’s many resources for you that will benefit your walk with the Lord. So from us grace and peace!

Sbu, thank you man.

All the best for the wedding. Yeah thanks! Keep praying for us!

Yeah I will.”

#TGCAfricaPodcast #TGCAfrica #Lobola #Marriage #AfricanChristianity #FaithandCulture

Blaque Nubon and Sibusiso Mdluli discuss why lobola is not a curse word. There are many benefits which can come from engaging in the lobola negotiation process. One positive aspect is how the two families get to know each other better – especially if the couple come from different cultures. However, there is a reason why lobola is often seen as more of a burden than a blessing. Sbu and Blaque explore both sides and look at why lobola is still an option even if you are Christian. Christians can also engage faithfully in this traditional practice.

Lobola requires careful consideration

“Are we setting our couples up for a fruitful marriage where they’re not having to have conflicts over debt? Where the husband doesn’t have to be resentful to the wife and her family because he feels like, you know, we started off badly because they overcharged? And I think that’s a careful consideration we need to make. But I think what comforts me is that the process of lobola is the beginning of relationship. Not just between the couple, but their families as well. And so, that should be borne in mind by the uncles as they conduct the negotiations.” Sibusiso Mdluli

#TGCAfricaPodcast #TGCAfrica #Lobola #Marriage #AfricanChristianity #FaithandCulture