The lobolo games part II: the price of love & mom's cow

The most important thing to remember once lobolo negotiations start: never ever question the value of the mother-of-the-bride's cow!

09 December 2018 - 00:00
By Ndumiso Ngcobo
Image: Aardwolf

Welcome to the Lobolo Games, Part II. Now, where was I? Oh yes, we were about to enter the bride-to-be's family room to commence negotiations.

In the event that you missed last week's Lobolo Games - Part I because you were too excited about having tickets to watch Beyoncé and that hobo who's always by her side, here's a neat summary:

Last week I analysed the deep philosophy that underpins ilobolo and how, even though we exchange money for a bride, this is not a financial transaction. I then took you on a descriptive journey of the traditional foreplay to the full-blown, frontal confrontation that typifies ilobolo negotiations. (Remember I dubbed the bride's family's delegation the Stoppers because they're there to stop any matrimonial progress unless the groom family's delegation, the Strikers, part with as much money as possible.)

Now that you're all caught up, let's pick up where we left off:


If you're from the Stoppers' side, remember that this is your terrain. No one can sit just anywhere. This is a huge bargaining tool. If you have two seating areas, choose the most cramped room. If their delegation numbers three, bring in five on your side. Including Auntie Smenyemenye, the tobacco sniffer, just so she can sneeze "Aitchoo!" every two minutes. Make all three sit on the wobbliest two-seater.

With the Strikers, anticipate this disorientation ruse. Remember; these folks are in their natural habitat, in their cool summer garb, the solitary fan in the room is facing them, while you're in heavy formal jackets as dictated by our ancient African traditions.


This is the payment the Stoppers demand before granting their attention. The direct translation is "That which opens the mouth". If you're dealing with a particularly hostile and belligerent family, they might even ask you for a fee to cajole the man of the house to climb down a proverbial tree he's perched on before affording you the privilege of paying him to loosen his jaw.

If you're in the Strikers' side, always come prepared for these unscheduled payments. Break those R200 notes into smaller denominations; R100, R50, R50 etc. Don't go as low as R20 notes - that's considered stingy and no one wants stingy in-laws.


The official reason for this rigmarole is about meeting your prospective in-laws and assessing if they are the appropriate family for your daughter or son. But if you're part of the Stoppers, the real and non-BS objective is to squeeze as much cash from them as is humanly possible. So dazzle them with your knowledge of "tradition" by breaking down the number of cows the bride's family requires.

The magical figure is 11 cows. These cattle are never of equal value and there's a grading system. Paramount in value is the cow called "ingquthu" by rural, proper adherents of this system or "ekanina" by Christian converts. It's a cow dedicated to the mother of the prospective bride. As a true Stopper, you set the price for this cow unreasonably high just to set the bar for the rest of the negotiations. I've seen this cow priced at R20,000.

Set the price for the cow dedicated to the mother of the bride unreasonably high just to set the bar for the rest of the negotiations

As a Striker, your duty is to not flinch once while these absurdities are visited upon you. After all, you've only got a R35,000 budget. Keep a demure countenance and expression. Nod sagely. Remember, if they demand R120,000, they're willing to settle for R80,000. This means that you can get away with R40,000. That's just basic Economics 101.

But whatever you do, NEVER EVER QUESTION THE VALUE OF THE MOTHER'S COW! Ever. It's the ultimate disrespect. A former friend of mine from KwaMashu once included me in his delegation to Umlazi with his two brothers. I have never been paired with a more disastrous bunch.

When the mother's cow was priced, one of his brothers started discussing the bride's sex history. Her virginity came up. I got the same sensation as when you discuss mileage, tyre tread and service history with a used-car salesman on Umgeni Road. I groaned. I estimate that the gaffe cost R10,000.


This is the ultimate weapon of the Strikers. Nothing threatens Stoppers hegemony more than a delegation that throws its collective hands in the air, sighs and declares: "You have defeated us. We cannot afford any of this." And then stand up to leave. Most families will sit you down and say: "There's something we can negotiate, surely?" After all, "Umfazi akaqedwa" (You can never finish a bride).

Some families are intransigent. I once boarded a flight back to Joburg after a botched lobolo negotiation having already bled R22,000 through the groom's wallet. So they went to home affairs and lived happily ever after.