Are South Africa’s Born-Free Women Studying in Order to Raise their Bride Price?

Many of our readers will know that in Africa, among many cultures, a bride price is paid for a woman when she gets married. This is a custom that has been practiced for as long as we can remember. When a young woman finds a suitable partner to marry, a ceremony must take place and paying a bridal price or “lobola” is an integral part of that ceremony before the “white wedding” or traditional western wedding can go ahead.

The celebration includes festivities that range from slaughtering a cow, to praising of the ancestors under a marula tree, to the mothers and aunts of the community preparing food together in celebration of their “daughter” becoming a woman.

Now, while I myself am a proud modern woman, I am also a traditionalist. I have been through the process of “lobola” and I see value in a slow process of courtship where families get to know each other, break bread with each other and celebrate the symbolism of two people and two families coming together, while at the same time respecting the practices of our ancestors.

And so I was interested: How many woman like me see lobola as an important symbolic tradition, and how many see it in more economically practical terms?

Are our “born-free” women studying in order to raise their lobola price?

I posed the question to some of our Bridging Academy students. Here is what they had to say:

Princess Sibiya

Princes Sibuyi: No, I don’t think that studying will raise my bride price. I took the decision to come here because I want a better life for myself and my family. The qualification that I am going to have by the end of the year will only make me proud and empowered.

Thandeka

Thandeka Mondlane: No, I personally do not agree with that statement, though my parents might want to raise my lobola because I believe I will have a qualification by the time I tie the knot. To be fair, my parents grew up in a different era in South Africa with much fewer opportunities than I have today. I am here because I want to learn and change my current situation. I know that by the end of this year I will be a better person through the skills and qualifications I will graduate with from the Bridging Academy at Hazyview Digital Learning Campus.

 

Trudy Tibela: No, I don’t think so. I believe that if you don’t have the time to educate yourself you are wasting your life away because at the end of the day you are building your own empire. I will become one of the most successful young women in my community not because my lobola was more than the girl’s next door, but because I have been inspired and educated.

Trudy Tibela: No, I don’t think so. I believe that if you don’t have the time to educate yourself you are wasting your life away because at the end of the day you are building your own empire. I will become one of the most successful young women in my community not because my lobola was more than the girl’s next door, but because I have been inspired and educated.

Dorcus Sibuyi: Even though this might still be true, I believe that studying is about empowering yourself and having a bright future. I am very excited about this year because I am going to get my qualifications.

Dorcus Sibuyi: Even though this might still be true, I believe that studying is about empowering yourself and having a bright future. I am very excited about this year because I am going to get my qualifications.

Jabulile Mnisi: No, I believe so much in women empowerment so I don’t see a reason why I should spend my time studying for a bride price increase when I know very well that it will not increase my success in any way.

Jabulile Mnisi: No, I believe so much in women empowerment so I don’t see a reason why I should spend my time studying for a bride price increase when I know very well that it will not increase my success in any way.

Dapheny Ndlovu

Dapheney Ndlovu: My intentions are to be a young, successful woman because I am a goal-driven person living in a new South Africa that has endless possibilities. When I decided that I wanted to study, it was because I want to turn my life around and become a young, empowered and employable woman who can motivate more young people from my community to follow in the same footsteps.

With no disrespect to the beautiful traditions that colour our cultures so richly, these answers are incredible. These are young women who are looking at their journey forward as something that they are in control of.

It’s a small shift and the significance may be missed on some. But think about it – in a globalised world, us rural women often have the hardest time. We sit in that interstitial space between the past and the future. In the media we see the future, we see where the empowered woman has got to, but because of our distance from the apex of the arrow, we’re sometimes stuck with expectations that spoil the way that we think of our ourselves.

To hear this sample of women talk about their future and their ability to shape their own path forward – that’s progress. The fact that they (and I) can do that while still making our grandparents proud – that’s something of an achievement.

They’re not married yet, but these girls have become women. They don’t have to wait to get married for that to happen.

Written by Accolade Ubisi.

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