While some would call it the unification of families, others would call it a sexist practice that comes in the form of long-term prostitution.

It is an integral part of many South African traditional weddings, and whether you call it dowry or lobola, you can be certain cows, gold or a fair amount of money is going to come out of it.

Lobola is an ancient African tradition where the groom-to-be pays a “bride price” for his fiancée in the form of cattle. The future bride and groom’s male elders negotiate the bridal price, a patriarchal practice that many feminists may decide disagrees with an era of gender equality.

Lobola has since become a status symbol, as the more you can fork out, the better you look as a potential provider. This is why some people have been refused the chance of marriage because they simply could not afford the very high bridal price (the man was not necessarily poor, the woman was just too pricy).

Some advice: if a traditional marriage is included in your future and you plan to marry an expensive woman, now would be a good time to start saving for the future.

In the Indian culture, the bride’s family pays the dowry to the groom’s family.

“In the Afrikaans community the lobola is the engagement”, explains Marinda Maree, Manager of the Gender Institute at Tuks. In this context, traditionally the bride’s parents pay for practically everything except the alcohol at the reception and the wedding rings, which are the groom and his family’s responsibility. The round ring, which was a symbol of eternity, is now transformed into a status symbol. “The status here is found in the size and the flawlessness of the diamond. The more the man loves you, the bigger the diamond”, Mrs Maree concludes.

Perdeby investigated how today’s future grooms and brides feel about the whole affair of financial arrangements that go on during traditional weddings.

Tuks students, Thabo Mojela, studying Public Management, and Ofentse Mnisi, a BA Law student, say the factors that would determine how much a man would be willing to pay for a potential bride would depend on her level of education, beauty, general conduct, background, whether she had children or not and the estate she was going to inherit. A bride of such quality would cost between R20 000 to R25 000. Ntokozo Sithole, a second-year Chemical Engineering student feels the labola tradition is wrong. According to her, poor families see daughters as investments and lobola negotiations as a form of a business transaction.

In the light of this traditional, cultural and religious process, could it be said that lobola is a process that lets the man practice his patriarchal authority? Could it also be said that this monetary exchange could be seen as unhealthy in a sense that an individual could possibly be exchanged for his/her family’s financial gain?

In all the South African traditions and cultures, the bride price is theoretically meant not only to prepare the bride or newlyweds for a life of marriage, but to secure firm family relations between both extended families. In some customs, however, this payment often means the couple may not be granted a divorce unless the bride’s family pays back the lobola in full. This then results in individuals staying in abusive and unhappy marriages.

Though dowry/lobola is ultimately meant to unify families and possibly communities, parties involved should be aware that it should not come at the price of a person’s freedom or individuality should not be equated with the price of a cow.

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