22/06/2018 05:59 SAST | Updated 22/06/2018 05:59 SAST

A Lobola Refund? No Such Thing According To Culture, Says Expert

You are not due for a 'refund' should things go haywire between you and your wife-to-be.

Khaya Ngwenya/ City Press/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images

A Twitter user recently raised concerns about lobola and possible refunds following Mzansi Magic's drama series "The Queen". She expressed concern at how lobola was being paid repeatedly for some characters on the show, but with no refund for the exes, prompting the question: what happens to lobola that's been paid, should a couple split?

According to Zulu culture, if you pay lobola, you are not due a "refund" should things go haywire between you and your wife-to-be.

"Lobola is not forced on anyone, a man pays lobola out of the willingness of his heart," explained cultural expert and lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Gugu Mkhize.

This is why Zulu proverbs say "Khethile, khethile" [you've made your pick, you've made your pick] and "izinkomo azibuyeli emuva" [cows don't go back].

"So when lobola is paid, so to speak, culturally, that's it. It's not refundable," she told HuffPost.

However, clarified Mkhize, should another man pay lobola for the lady you once paid lobola for, it's up to her parents whether or not to "refund" you lobola. "It wholly depends on them. They can out of the goodness of their hearts do so, but according to my understanding, it is up to them and not necessarily mandatory — because you were never forced to pay lobola in the first place."

Mkhize said we must remember what the initial intention of lobola was: "For a man to thank the girl's parents for raising her and to build family relations between the two new families."

In fact, she further explained, in the old days, after lobola was paid, incense was burnt to introduce umlobokazi (one for whom lobola has been paid) to the ancestors, "sealing the process culturally, if I may put it that way" and the bride-to-be would be taken to the husband-to-be's house soon after. "So even if she'd decide to go back home for whatever reason, the husband would not now come back and demand lobola from the family."

Mkhize acknowledged the complexities of the 21st century — the commercial perspective that affects lobola, such as women being more financially empowered, and issues of performative masculinity.

"I've heard that some men have taken the girl's family to court for lobola refund, arguing that they paid too much for it to 'go down the drain'. I've also heard of women that actually pay back lobola to their exes, wanting to 'owe no one'. This makes it complicated — as lobola, for one, was not meant to be a commercial transaction or a safety net you can withdraw at a later stage, should things go sour."

Mkhize also mentioned how emotions like pride, anger and jealousy may factor into "lobola refund" discussions and subsequent action.

"So it's really complex, and whether legally there should be recourse for this is a debatable topic for another day. I mean, if people go to the courts, then the underlying assumption can be that lobola is or should be a legal contract, but culturally it's not, and that is not what it is meant for."

However, Mkhize noted that "abakhongi [lobola negotiators] are not prevented from approaching the woman's family, should they have such an issue. I can say that even though there are no refunds, that doesn't mean it's golden and applicable in every situation."

Mkhize's advice: "Assess your intention before you get married."