My generation can be characterised by questioning everything. From religion, old political systems and laws, to various forms of injustices that were overlooked in the past. Where there was silence, we make the loudest noise.
Today, the most dominant activism is for equal rights, opportunities and personal freedom for women. Obviously, such advocacy existed from the 60s, but with the help of democracy, now women can freely express their frustrations about systems which are often against them.
But what is amusing is that in an era where some patriarchal systems are being reviewed, lobola is still flourishing and untouched.
Lobola is one of the old-standing African customs, and some people feel that abandoning this custom will be another step towards the loss of everything that is African.
It is seen as socially beneficial because it brings together families, as well as a way for the bridegroom to acknowledge the precious gift, the bride.
Overpriced extortionist cultural practice
As life gets more expensive and culture is modernised, the lobola custom has turned into an overpriced extortionist cultural practice. Money has become the centre of the process; greed is now chairing the negotiations.
This is not a call to scrap the tradition, but a lament for its meaning and function which have deviated from the primary significance it used to have. The basic reason for practicing lobola was to bring families together - cows or money were "offered" as a token of appreciation, contrary to the "payment" culture which has now corrupted the custom.
Due to current outrageous price setting, most men pay the money which was meant to be a generous gift from a place of bitterness.
And to others, these tremendous price tags mean that, even if a couple is emotionally ready to commit to each other, they must wait, because the man does not have the financial resources to satisfy the bride's family. This sometimes results in settling for cohabitation.
Nowadays, the practice can also be used as a weapon to halt marriages. If the bride's family does not approve of the groom for various reasons - like coming from a rival tribe, background or occupation - they can easily delay the marriage by making lobola negotiations difficult.
Also, some lobola aspects disregard women's rights.
The bride does not have a full control of the negotiations. And some people might argue that, in other tribes, the bride can make a price suggestion to parents, precisely. But she doesn't have much control over the outcome. If the proceedings fail or are postponed, she must remain, hoping for the elders to fix, if they ever will. This is another example of a system that does not allow a woman to have full control of her own fate.
Lobola fails women. It culminates in men thinking that they buy entitlement over women. Its contract binds the bride to cook, clean, bear children and a forced submission.
In the past it was part of the fundamental causes of gender-based violence. "He paid lobola, therefore he owns her."
Even during wedding celebrations, elders only sit the bride down and mentor her on being a good wife and taking care of her husband, but nothing is said to the groom.
Whenever a lobola debate is on the ground, most people cannot reason beyond "it's our tradition". But, just because a practice is traditional, does not mean it can disregard people's rights.
Virginity testing was also a proudly embraced traditional practice, especially in the Nguni tribes. But it was scrapped after found to be violating young girls' rights of privacy.
If we want to completely uproot patriarchy, we must be ready to address it even when masked as culture.
Yes, we cannot neglect the concept of appreciating the in-laws, no matter how everything is modernised, we just have to always do that. And lobola was meant to be a good platform for us to do so.
But what do we do now?
The most pleasant way to do it would be to allow the bridegroom to bring whatever amount he has. If given such an opportunity, he would probably go all out to bring the best gift he could. And he will present it with a sense of gratitude and respect, instead of bitterness over the debt. This will also tackle the narrative of the man buying the woman.
And it will also ease the burden of a super-makoti, which the bride is expected to be in order to make up for the sums of money forked out for her.
Lastly, there is no need for difficult negotiations if the couple have already agreed to be together.
If our generation is unwilling to address the lobola system, we will breed another frustrated young black generation. We must discard the belief that being African means tolerance, even in the midst of mistreatment.