Let the lobolo games begin

Here are some basic guidelines to help you prepare for a lobolo negotiation. PS. sunblock and biltong might come in handy

02 December 2018 - 00:11
Image: Aardwolf

A friend included me in his ilobolo delegation to northern KwaZulu-Natal last weekend. (No, the ilobolo bit is not a typo. In the Zulu language, "lobolo" is the noun derived from the verb "lobola".) I guess my friend chose that weekend because it was Black Friday, in the hope that the spirit of massive discounts would rub off on his future bride's family.

Contrary to a popular misconception, ilobolo has nothing to do with the sale of a woman to her future husband's family. Oh, shut up Captain Pedantic, and stop insisting that the payment of money in exchange for family approval of their daughter's marriage sounds an awful lot like a purchase deal. Remember, "African culture" works in mysterious ways. You wouldn't understand if I tried to explain it, especially seeing as it's just as murky to me as it is to you. But that's neither here nor there.

Over the past decade or so, I have been asked to be part of lobolo negotiations with increasing regularity. I guess my notoriety as a lobola-negotiating beast is spreading.

I started out as a junior member of the lobolo team who didn't say much during the actual proceedings except pay attention, nod sagely and scribble furiously. Gradually, over the years, I have risen up the ranks and become the head of delegations.

A lobolo negotiation obviously has two sides. I call the groom-to-be's team The Strikers. The bride-to-be's team of uncles and aunts are The Stoppers.

Here are some basic guidelines;


Usually, the groom's family will send word requesting a date to conduct the negotiations. The first salvo in the psychological warfare that is about to ensue is to totally ignore the message. Don't even acknowledge receiving it. It's extremely unsettling for The Strikers. Only respond once they send a follow-up plea to be heard.

If you're on The Strikers' side, don't let the non-response ruse get to you. Use the lull in communication productively by gathering useful intelligence. Bribe Bra Spunky, the bride's alcoholic uncle by plying him with Old Buck gin. Get him to divulge sensitive info such as who will head The Stoppers delegation, what is the absolute minimum they will accept and what their strategy is.


If you're on The Stoppers team, the first thing you do is expel Bra Spunky. Don't include the bride's actual mother or maternal grandmother in the delegation. They will weaken your side because they truly have the bride's interests at heart and will therefore be lenient. You don't need such negativity.

The bride's actual mother or maternal grandmother will weaken your side because they truly have the bride's interests at heart 

Also, employ the services Titus, the family friend who is a magistrate in the Hluhluwe Magistrate's Court and sports an Afro-and-beard combo in his capacity as a Nazarene/Shembe pastor. In one go you intimidate the enemy with exemplary jurisprudence, a strong rural background and a man closer to the Lord than their delegation.

If you're in The Strikers, make sure that the team comprises silver-tongued borderline charlatans. Experience as a claims officer at an insurance company, participation in a Ponzi scheme or selling Forever/Longrich/ Herbalife "network marketing" spots is a huge plus. If you can find a motivational speaker uncle, even better.


If you're in The Stoppers, please be aware that "African culture" has bestowed upon you a great bargaining tool here. The Strikers are not allowed to enter your premises without your explicit invitation. So, what you do is insist on a Saturday morning that the weatherman predicts will be a 38°C scorcher.

According to custom, The Strikers delegation is mandated to stand outside your gate, yelling out all your clan names until you are satisfied that every single one of your ancestors has been acknowledged. (Last Saturday, my Strikers shouted at the gate, in 32°C heat, for about an hour until dementia set in and we started yelling, "Sunblock!", "SP50!").

Your entire entourage should be wearing formal jackets. According to 'our culture', not wearing a jacket is punishable with a hefty fine

To frustrate The Strikers even more, it is advisable to fry bacon on a gas stove strategically placed to carry the aromas towards the gate.

If you're part of The Strikers, be armed with sunblock, umbrellas, bottled water, a biltong snack and Google to look up The Stoppers' clan praise names.

Also, your entire entourage should be wearing formal jackets. According to "our culture", not wearing a jacket is punishable with a hefty fine. This is ostensibly because this tradition was established when King Senzangakhona's entourage went to negotiate ilobolo for Queen Nandi wearing Prada and Gucci.

If there are any women in your group, their heads and shoulders should be covered. Apparently, the ancestors hate a woman's shoulders and bare hair.

At this point, the scene is poised for a beautiful morning of debate, counterpoints and a lot of fun to be had by all. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Lobolo Games.

You're welcome.