Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and his bride, Nomachule, at their traditional wedding in Mandeni, KwaZulu-Natal, in 2014.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and his bride, Nomachule, at their traditional wedding in Mandeni, KwaZulu-Natal, in 2014.
Image: TEBOGO LETSIE/Sowetan

There isn't a step-by-step guide to setting a budget for a traditional wedding. Unlike a white wedding, you're not aware of the costs until negotiations are under way.

Despite this, the process doesn't have to catch you off guard. Mpendulo Zungu*, an investment analyst, shares a few tips about how best to navigate lobola negotiations, and the importance of open communication between the families.

You might not have a specific account for lobola, but you can contribute extra to your savings in anticipation of the process.

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"A year before the actual event, when I knew that this is the path I want to take, I increased my monthly savings to prepare for it. But it's not easy to do so because you never know how much the amount you're going to pay will be," he said.

Speaking to your partner and being realistic about what you can afford is a vital first step.

"We're very open about our finances. She knew how much I could afford. It doesn't make much of a difference because the 'how much' decision wasn't hers to make (it is decided by her family). But it's important to make her aware of your position," he added.

Zungu pointed out the importance of understanding the differences in cross-cultural settings, which he learnt well into the negotiations. For instance, Zungu had assumed they would deduct inhlawulo - which had already been paid - as they do in KwaZulu-Natal, where he comes from. "It ended up being a tad more than I'd budgeted for," he said.

Inhlawulo refers to the practice where a man who has impregnated a woman out of wedlock compensates her family.

Zungu highlighted that changing times mean the financial burden falls squarely on the groom. It's unlike the old days, where the father would pay with cows accumulated over decades. Nowadays you're also expected to provide a home for your family as well as two cars.

With this in mind, it's important to take a holistic approach, said Zungu. Don't just think about the short term.

Having the right negotiators who understand the process also makes an impact as proceedings aren't set in stone, and they need to steer things in the right direction.

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The process varies from culture to culture, and families have their own ways of doing things. "You also have to think about what happens after the lobola negotiations are concluded. This differs across the various cultures."

In KwaZulu-Natal, most families have umembeso - where the groom's family give gifts to the bride's family prior to the wedding.

There's also umabo - where the bride's family bring gifts to the groom's family. Other families might also have umbondo, where the bride's family bring food to the groom's family before the wedding.

"All these events have to have food and that isn't cheap," said Zungu.

If the bride's family are aware that the groom's family is quite big, and they will have to bring lots of gifts for umabo, they may be inclined to request a higher price on the lobola. Similarly, if the bride's family is big, the groom's family may want to negotiate a lower lobola price.

Everyone involved needs to understand what the process is meant to achieve - building a relationship between the families. "There are cases where people are exploited but I was fortunate," said Zungu.

*Not his real name

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