The lebola/magadi stock exchange

The other day on the tweet machine lobola was trending. This post is long overdue actually, better late than never? I’m actually going to call it magadi from here on, because I am Tswana and lobola is the Zulu word for it. Since it is all about culture, let me preserve my own.

One of my very good friends in varsity was of the opinion that she’s going to fetch a very high price on the magadi exchange. In her words: “Amongst other things Rodean was a finishing school, someone has to pay my dad back for all that money spent on my grooming”. She said this with a straight face and I was inclined to believe her, because it made sense to me then. Growing up I’d hear stories about how cousin Kagiso’s magadi was more than cousin Lebo’s, because Kagiso went to Wits and Lebo went to Damelin.

Old Skool

Things were very different when the idea of magadi first came about. Magadi negotiations were a lot about pride and the values families instilled in their daughters. Men were only too glad to pay sizeable amounts of cattle for these young women. However, it wasn’t so much about the consideration given up, but more about the symbolic celebration of a women’s worth, to her family, society and the man she was to marry. The worth of a girl/woman was based on a few things, to mention a few:

  • The kind of family she is from and their standing in the community
  • whether she’d be able to bare children. So they’d look into how fertile the mother and other females in the family have been
  • whether she’s a virgin or not. I don’t think Tswana people did this. I think this is a nguni thing
  • aesthetics also played a role, and
  • her weight. Apparently big girls are well nourished and it shows that they are well taken care of by their families (heard from a nguni friend).

It is also important to remember then that men were the sole providers in the family. As such, for the bride’s family to allow a marriage they had to be satisfied that indeed the groom will be able to take care of their daughter. Back then living standards were relatively on the same level with the exception of a few. That few would marry into those families which they associated with in terms of wealth.

Nu Skool

While some families still have the same ideas of yesteryear, others don’t and it’s become a little dicey. Thing’s exist today that didn’t exist then, creating challenges that are left unaddressed. These things have in my view skewed the real meaning of the whole practice of magadi. From the list above we can already see how some of these things have no meaning in modern society.

Back then marrying families knew each other or at least of each other. Standing in the community was easily determinable. How’s Mashudu’s family from Polokwane going to know how respected Mbali’s family in Johannesburg is? Fertility is hardly an issue these days because children are no longer viewed as some sort of wealth. As for beauty today and beauty then…that’s a whole blog post on its own. You also find men of modest means marrying into families of considerable wealth, and vice versa. Both parties come to the table with different expectations. Inter-cultural marriages also present a different set of issues; interracial marriages are probably ten times worse.

So then what do we have to value Mbali’s worth? Education, future earning power and a loose assumption of what kind of family she is from?

I find that the major challenge with this practice nowadays is the issue of money, money, money, money!!! Putting a price on everything seems to be how this ritual is practice. The potential monetary gains to the bride’s family leave the groom’s side to potential abuse. These issues are further exacerbated by the paranoia caused by divorce. Back then this was never an issue. The money paid was an “investment” for life.

So what now?

Fact is we need to assess if it’s still worthwhile to have this practice. Like polygamy it’s comes across as archaic and it might no longer be relevant in the times we are living in. Women can now provide for themselves as well and sometimes even better than men can. Being the “bread winner” and the magadi payer aren’t the masculine tasks they used to be.

As much as I love preserving our cultural heritage and customs etc, I need to feel comfortable with paying an amount for someone I’m going to marry based on random valuations. In my head it is honestly so much better to give cattle. Cows are a source of life and survival. Those cows would give milk and meat and hide. Cattle are still celebrated in the rurals and it’s tangible. It makes senses.

Ever wonder what happens to the money these days? Some families give it back to the couple as they know they need the money to start a new life together. Others want to use it to help pay for the wedding. Then there are the families that use it to pay debt, get new kitchen units and whatever other things they want. Do you see my problem?

Good luck with your future magadi negotiations. Ladies I hope you fetch a high price. Gentlemen I hope you can afford it.

DISCLAIMER: If something in this post purports to be a fact, please be so kind as to look upon it as an opinion. I have not researched any of this; I’m just sharing what’s in my head. Please also try to have a sense of humour.

 I once heard a story of one malume at magadi negotiations trying to get an extra R1000 because the girl had a learner’s license.




About obialone
I'm random and unwise. I'm always seeking wisdom in its simplest form. I'm scared of not being scared, so I find ways to terrify myself. I care about everything, and I'm interested in all things. I reserve the right to change my mind, anytime. So in most cases I find it best to humble my opinion

2 Responses to The lebola/magadi stock exchange

  1. Lesego says:

    Oh Dear Thato!
    U’ve jus gone and made me rethink my ‘bride price’…
    Thanks another good peace of reading.

    • obialone says:

      Hehe! Glad you enjoyed it ausi! You must call me ka magadi a go! Mme Serobatse will be happy for the amount I’ll negotiate for you. I’m going to go in there with a powerpoint presentation.

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