Our negotiations started the day before as we were requested to arrive at the venue by 5am! This was a first for us but we were assured this was the cultural norm so we negotiated for a later time as we were coming from 2hrs away and by 830 we were there.
Soon as we came into the community we were conspicuous. An old man who happened to be passing by just said uMkhwenyana! (Vakwasha). He stopped to chat and we exchanged pleasantries and he said this is a good thing you are doing!
We had our interpreter/chief negotiator who proved to be invaluable. Someone familiar with the lores, customs and traditions and also spoke the language. No doubt this will be a profession in its own right in the near future!
So on arrival we had to stand by the gate and shout out the clan name, who we are and why we were there. At times you maybe made to wait for hours while you can see everyone going about their early morning chores seemingly ignoring you.
A young boy came to us after a short time and said they didn’t hear us so we need to do it again. Apparently if you do it once and then repeat without being invited you will be ‘fined’. After the second time we were invited into the homestead and we were settled in a room
We waited for the family to come. We were there for a while until the same boy came back who was acting as the apprentice. I admired the passing of indigenous knowledge This boy can actually carry out the whole procedure if need be.
He brought a plate with 10 mealie seeds which was vulamulomo (vhuramuromo). Each seed representing a set amount. We paid the amount and placed in a plate and the young man only came later to collect. We were waiting for an uncle to come for the proceedings to go ahead.
When he arrived they came in and sat with us. It was only the men. No women were present. The women were outside in a separate room where they would be consulted throughout the process.
As uMkhwenyana we expected to sit on the floor but we didn’t expect our uBabezala (tezvara) to also sit on the floor. I thought that was noble as it takes away any superiority and enhances the idea of relation building. After greetings we went straight into the negotiations.
There were no zvirehwa rehwa (additional charges), after vhuramuromo we went straight to the cows which is basically rusambo (Bride price). It was all about negotiating the quantity and value of the cows. Compared to the list from Zimbabwe.
Initially we had been warned that makhoti would come covered with three other maidens and we had to correctly pointe her out and we had worked on a sign from makhoti but this never happened. Cos if we got it wrong we would be ‘fined’.
They stated their number of cows some small, some large and the price for each. They exited twice to consult with the women. In Shona culture its us the uMkhwenyana who exit to discuss. In this case uBabezala (tezvara) would exit for discussions.
After two rounds of negotiations they were adamant that the price was not going down and the number of cows was not changing so we took our cows from their kraal and presented them!
After counting they gave a salute which was a sign of appreciation and this happened twice after this. They would put up their hands and in unison they said the surname of uMkhwenyana. 🙌
In our negotiations we were not allowed to mention the number 5 eg R5000 for the price of a cow, it either had to be 4000 or 6000 as 5 was considered to be an open palm and would be akin to slapping our tezvara in the face.
Apparently with the number of cows, if the makhoti has children from a previous relationship, a cow is deducted per child. So if you are charged 10 cows and she had 3 children then you paid 7. We are delivering all the requested cows. Both families are proud! 😌
From there we went on to negotiate for the bride so that we will be given our makhoti without the wedding. At this stage the women took over the negotiations. Some desired for their daughter to go after the wedding.
But after they discussed in private they came back to say we can take makhoti with us! We obviously didn’t expect to go back with her that day but we just needed that consent so that the two can plan their wedding at their own pace.
With the cows settled, the remainder to be presented as live beasts, they saluted again then we were called outside and shown a goat for uMkhwenyana which we could slaughter or take live. We decided to have it slaughtered there.
The list of what was paid and outstanding was signed by both parties and apparently this is needed when you register your marriage with Home Affairs? After all formalities were done we were were treated to some ukuGida dances!
uMkhwenyana joined in the festive atmosphere. We thoroughly enjoyed this and it was just a prelude for the uMembeso ceremony where the two families exchange gifts amongst more festivities. This I will not miss!
My great take away from this is that the whole lobola process when done right with the intended purposes is good thing which we do need to preserve! Everyone was happy no-one felt hard done.
It enforced my stance on the lobola ceremony that it’s a good tradition which should remain to join families. Those who don’t agree with lobola should find partners and their parents who believe in the same.
Disclaimer: This account of traditional Zulu #lobola negotiations is just my experience and my interpretation of as a first hand witness of this specific one. Where I may have erred please forgive, clarify and enlighten.