What is lobola in South Africa? Meaning, ceremony, letter, negotiations

What is lobola in South Africa? Meaning, ceremony, letter, negotiations

Did you know lobola and lobolo mean the same thing in South Africa? Lobola ceremonies have been held in many South African communities for centuries. In the past, the approach was pretty traditional. Some things have since changed.

lobola letter
Two couples during their lobolo ceremonies. Photo: Photo: @mmantshu, @the_wedding_influenzar (modified by author)
Source: UGC

Many South African couples spend months planning the perfect lobola ceremonies. The custom was incorporated into South African law after independence. It is now governed under the Recognition of Customary Marriages, 1998 (Act 120 of 1998).

What is lobola in South Africa?

Lobolo or lobola is practised in the Swazi, Zulu, Silozi, Xhosa, Shona, Ndebele, and other South African communities. During a lobola ceremony, bridewealth or bride price is paid to the bride's family.

Meaning of lobola

Lobola means bride price. It is a milestone in which a prospective husband or the head of his family gives the head of the future wife's family property to show gratitude for being allowed to marry their daughter.

Read also

Building fever grips Greece as tourism booms

In the past, the property given was in the form of cattle or livestock. Today, many people are opting for cash.


A look at the history of lobolo shows it started in 300 BC. At the time, it was a token of appreciation given to a bride to build her home.

It also symbolised unity and harmony between two families, i.e. the groom's and the bride's. Traditionally, the token of appreciation was issued in the form of cattle, especially cows.

Lobola prices

There is no fixed lobolo price. However, each community has guidelines for how many cows or money is acceptable. Generally, the number of cows issued is considered the worth of the new bride.

In the past, different factors were considered before paying bridewealth, e.g. age and child(ren). The bride price for a "pure" woman, for instance, was higher than for a woman with a child born out of wedlock.

Read also

Indigenous Colombians in standoff over wind farms

Today, some of the factors considered are the new bride's education level, her family's social status, and the groom's family's financial muscle. Before the bride price ceremony, negotiations are made.

lobola ceremony
A picture of three colours. Photo: @Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Lobola negotiations

Before the dowry ceremony, families send representatives to negotiate the amount or number of cows to be given to the bride's family. The negotiation prowess of the representatives determines the final decision.

In modern-age society, people can easily access a lobola calculator online. The calculator can give you an estimate. However, the final decision lies in the conclusions made on the negotiation desk.

The end of the negotiations confirms the union of the soon-to-be bride and groom and their families. In March 2021, for example, AKA's lobola negotiations were concluded, meaning he and fiancée Nelli Tembe were officially off the market.

Lobola letter

Before negotiations begin, the groom-to-be should issue a typed or handwritten lobola letter. In the letter, the groom-to-be expresses his desire to speak to the bride-to-be’s family about joining the two families together.

Read also

Credit Suisse chiefs face the music at AGM

The letter should be polite and genuine. It is usually presented to the girl's family by a trusted member of the groom’s family. In the past, letters would be sent through the mail.

After the woman's family receives the letter, important family members deliberate and come up with negotiation dates that best suit them. They then write a response letter to the bride’s family. The letter indicates when they would like the groom’s family members to visit.

Some response letters will tell the man's family what to bring or what to expect. However, most cultures do not go into detail. The groom-to-be can ask the bride-to-be what to expect. Usually, a percentage of the bridewealth is paid during the negotiations.

What to cook for lobola negotiations

The food to be cooked and served during dowry negotiations vary from one community to another. Usually, tasty traditional meals are prepared.

Read also

Barcode turns 50 but its days might be numbered

What happens at a lobola?

After the negotiations, the date for the lobola ceremony is set. In most communities, the final payment of the bride price is paid on the morning of the lobola celebration.

Once this is done, families exchange gifts in the form of hats, blankets, clothes, walking sticks, etc. During the celebrations, plenty of meat is served. Delicious traditional meals are also served.

Usually, it is the groom’s family that throws a party to welcome the new bride. The activities conducted on this special day may vary from culture to culture.

At the end of the day, most brides change into the groom’s traditional attire to symbolise acceptance in her new family. Many couples hold a white or church wedding ceremony after lobola.

Lobola dresses

The traditional attire for lobola varies from one community to another. Normally, people wear traditional outfits which are colourful and celebratory.

Read also

Uniqlo parent company to boost Japan wages up to 40%

Today, most female lobola outfits have a touch of modernisation. Brides and their maids normally show up in elegant and fashionable outfits made of fabric with traditional prints.

Tswana traditional attire for lobola

A look into most Twana couples' lobola pictures reveals they put on their best outfits on the special day. The Tswana community is known for blue outfits. Some couples may choose other colours for the day.

Zulu lobola attire

In Zulu culture, makoti means a newlywed woman or bride. The makoti lobola attire is normally colourful. It features colourful beads.

lobola pictures
A traditional Zulu man. Photo:@Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Some men also prefer to wear traditional Zulu outfits. Others choose to have African-themed modern outfits.

What does paying lobola mean?

In most South African communities, paying lobola means one is officially off the market. It shows a man has committed himself to a woman.

Does lobola mean you are married?

Read also

Airbus books 820 net plane orders, highest since 2017

Lobola itself is not marriage. However, it is a part of the process of getting married under customary law.

Who takes lobola money?

The woman's family receives lobola money in respect of custom.

Lobola ceremonies in present-day South Africa are colourful events. During these ceremonies, the groom's family gives the bride's family money or cattle to appreciate them for giving him a wife.

READ ALSO: Top 20 interesting facts about South Africa you ought to know | Details for travellers

Briefly.co.za recently published interesting facts about South Africa. The country is one of the richest nations in the world in terms of cultural and natural diversity.

Over the years, South Africa has become a favourite tourist destination for travellers from across the globe. People visit to witness its diverse culture, rich history, and natural landscapes.

Source: Briefly News

Online view pixel