Lobola also known as Magadi is a token price paid by the groom’s family to the future wife’s family requesting her hand in marriage. The price is agreed upon by the two families and traditionally it is paid in the form of cattle. This method of payment is still continued in some settings. However, due to urbanization, people are no longer able to take care of cattle or do not have the space, thus opt in converting the number of cattle to money. In some cases both cattle and money may be requested. In certain customs a cow is requested if the wife’s family would like to have a wedding celebration, and on this day they will be officially handing over the bride to the husband’s family. The cow will be slaughtered for the celebration and a portion of the cow as per agreement will be given to the husband’s family. The payment of lobola, which is usually paid in cash, may be paid during the first meeting and the balance may be paid off on an agreed date. However, some families discourage carrying large amounts of money and thus choose to do electronic transfers. The agreed price is usually a demonstration of how much the bride is valued by her family, the groom and the groom’s family, although other factors such as education, premarital children, occupation and affordability are considered.
Lobola is more than just what people regard as a bride price; it is a token that not only symbolizes a union between the husband and wife but also between the two families. It endorses the beginning of concrete relations between the respective families. The wife gains a new family, the husband also gains a new family and in return the parents gain a daughter or a son. It is expected that the daughter in law is welcomed into the in-laws home and that she spends time with them before she can go to her own home. This is an important time as it allows them to get to know her and she will get the opportunity to meet the other family members and relatives. More importantly, it allows her to build a relationship with her parents in law as it is expected that she takes care of them when it’s required. Lobola is also a token of gratitude to the wife’s family for raising her well and for allowing her to join their family. It also symbolizes the promises made between the husband and wife. For the husband it symbolizes his promise to be a good husband, to love and care for his wife. On the other hand his wife promises to respect her husband and care for him. She also promises to accept his parents and family and care for them unconditionally.
Of more importance Lobola is an indication that the two families have blessed the marriage. In African custom a marriage not blessed by two families remains a union only between the two and the bride and groom may not be accepted by the families. However, it is important to note that Lobola should not be seen as a barrier between two people who want to get married and cannot afford to pay. The price should be set within the groom’s means and or the groom’s parent’s means if the groom requires help. What is more important is that the two families meet and the lobola process is entered into. Lobola is an important part of the African custom and signifies a blessed union. A celebration is held at the bride’s place on the day she is accompanied and handed over to the groom’s family. This process is called “Umembeso” in Zulu, “Tlhapiso ya Magadi” in Tswana, “Hlapišo ya Magadi” in Sepedi and “uKwembesa” in Xhosa.
There are few African people who do not believe in this custom. Lobola should not be seen as a stumbling block to them. The two families can meet and agree that a token price should not be paid. The two families can continue to bless the marriage and the bride be handed over to the grooms family. This will prove to be a crucial process in trying times when the couple will need support from the families. It is important that young couples are cautious of these customs and understand that they can still get blessings if they do not disregard the importance of family unions in marriage. After lobola process is completed, couples may get Christian blessings as per their beliefs. It is required by law that all marriages are legally registered with the state. Plans for wedding or marriage celebrations follow thereafter. The wedding celebration is usually delayed to allow the couple to plan and budget for this big day. It is not all African couples that will have a large celebration. A wedding ring is an icon of unity of the two; Lobola or Magadi is an African trademark of unity of the two and their families.