Under African customary law, it is custom to follow certain traditions before they can get married, for example, paying lobolo. Lobolo is given by the man to the family of his future wife. This article will shed some light on the basic principles of lobolo.

What is lobolo?

  • Lobolo, also known as bogadi, bohali, lumalo or ikhasi, is when a man gives a gift to his girlfriend’s family when he wants to marry her in respect of custom.
  • The giving of lobolo is agreed to between the two families of the couple (the future husband and wife).
  • Cattle was traditionally given as lobolo, but money or other gifts can also be given.

How is the lobolo agreed to?

  • Lobolo must first be negotiated between the families of the future husband and wife, however, the procedures to reach an agreement on lobolo are different in each culture.
  • Generally, the future husband must request the family of his future wife to start with the lobolo negotiations. This can be done by sending them a letter.
  • The future husband and/or his representatives (for example, his uncles) will meet with his future wife’s representatives (for example, her father and/or uncles) and negotiate the terms and conditions of the lobolo, for example:
    • what must be given as lobolo;
    • when the lobolo must be given; and
    • how the lobolo must be given.
  • There are various factors to consider when determining the lobolo to be given for his future wife, for example:
    • her age;
    • amount of children she has;
    • whether she is employed; and
    • what level of education she has, for example, the more educated she is, the higher the lobolo will be.
  • The lobolo agreement can be put in writing in order to avoid future disputes.

Who may negotiate and receive lobolo?

  • Traditionally, only a male person can be the head of a family. For example, the father of the bride will be the head of her family and is entitled to negotiate and receive lobolo.
  • However, this position has been developed to such an extent that females can also be head of a family. For example, the mother may also negotiate and accept lobolo if there is no male head of the family.

Will the couple be considered married once the lobolo is given?

  • In terms of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, the following requirements must be met before a couple will be considered to be married in accordance with customary law (“customary marriage”):
    • The customary marriage must be negotiated, entered into or celebrated in accordance with customary law. This means that the customary marriage must be entered into in line with the traditions and customs of the husband and the wife, for example:
      • the two families must consent to the marriage;
      • lobolo must be given; and/or
      • the future wife must be handed over to the family of the future husband.
    • The couple must be 18 years or older (parental consent is required if they are below the age of 18).
    • The couple must also be competent to marry each other, meaning that they must not be blood relatives. For example, a brother and sister are not allowed to marry each other.
    • The couple must consent to the marriage. For example, if the future husband did not give his consent to enter into a customary marriage, but already gave lobolo, then no valid customary marriage exists.
  • Even though lobolo is not specifically mentioned in legislation as a requirement for a valid customary marriage, it helps to show that a customary marriage has been negotiated, entered into or celebrated in accordance with customary law. This means that a customary marriage will not necessarily be invalid if lobolo was not given.

Must lobolo be given in full?

  • No, it is possible for the families to agree on how the lobolo must be given. For example, it can be agreed that the lobolo of R10 000 be paid in monthly instalments of R2 000.

If the couple breaks up, must the lobolo be returned?

  • Lobolo can be returned if the couple breaks up. However, the following principles will apply in respect of the return of lobolo:
    • If the man is responsible for the break-up, the lobolo does not have to be returned.
    • If the woman is responsible for the break-up, the lobolo has to be returned.
    • If the break-up is mutual or both the man and the woman are responsible for the break-up, an agreement can be reached between the two families in respect of the return of the lobolo.
  • If the husband wants to reclaim lobolo during a divorce, the person to whom the lobolo was given (such as the woman’s father or mother) must also be brought to court as the claim will be against that person.

South Africa is a diverse and multi-cultural country with each culture having their own traditions. When it comes to lobolo, it is no exception and the above information is just to highlight the basic legal principles that have developed over the past few decades. There are various aspects to consider when dealing with lobolo, especially considering the different cultures’ traditions, and it is important to ensure that the negotiations are done properly to avoid any disputes in the future. A lobolo agreement can help to get the families on the same page and to pen down what has been agreed to during the negotiations.