Homosexuality and Lobola

Is there room for Lobola in gay  marriages?

While the South African government passed a law allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in 2006, this has not necessarily translated into South African black culture embracing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) marriages.

Lobola is an African tradition integral to customary marriage. It involves the payment of cattle or cash from the groom's family to the parents of the bride.

Arnold Motsau and Sandile Mntungwa's journey to get married

Arnold Motsau (Right) and Sandile Mntungwa (Left)
Arnold Motsau and Sandile Mntungwa are a young black gay couple in the process of getting married.

Motsau, who is a PhD student at the University of Free State, believes that the gender boundary that dictates Lobola should be paid by the male's family to the female's, needs to be reconstructed to accommodate homosexual relations.

"If people who are custodians of Lobola then say this [lobola between two men] is not Lobola, then fine. We need a new name for Lobola which I am wary to say would represent homosexual relationships because there are so many variations and permutations of the homosexual relationship.

"I don't think we can find a suitable model, but I think we can come to a consensus of mutual respect, something we can find common in all cultures and religion," says Motsau.

His parents asked about lobola

Motsau adds that he and his fiance declined to do the Lobola negotiations.

"His parents asked the very same question, so who is who because they are puzzled now. So what happens in bed? Who is the male? Who is the female? For them they were puzzled about during the wedding who sits where  because our African weddings are completely gendered," says Motsau.

Exchange Of Gifts

Motsau says rather than paying for Lobola, they have opted for the families to exchange gifts.

He says the gifts exchanged between the families, like food, would be distributed among the community.

"So we go house to house, we are giving maize-meal,  giving sugar randomly to people as a gesture of extending the friendship to the larger community," says Motsau.

Engagement without a ring

Motsau and Mntungwa decided when they got engaged not to get a ring or set a date for the actual wedding ando chose to take time during their engagement to introduce and familiarise the two families to each other. 

"But if the family did not buy into the idea or did not know what's going on, it defeats the purpose of saying we want to unite the families," says Motsau.

Maphefo Mthombeni and Sizakele are legally married but are yet to pay Lobola 

Maphefo Mthombeni (Left) and Sizakele (Right)

Maphefo Mthombeni says she and her partner decided to get married legally first before embarking on Lobola negotiations.

Mthombeni says her family were not sold on the idea of her suggesting Lobola negotiations for another woman.

Mthombeni says her mother only accepted the idea a few days later: "I went home, I met with my parents, and my uncle. And then my mother said she has changed her mind and I can go ahead with the negotiations."

It is Something I wanted to do

Mthombeni says she took the initiation to be the one proposing to pay Lobola to her partner.

Mthombeni believes the union of two individuals has nothing to do with their gender, religion, or sexuality.

"We are African people, we are blacks, we can't run away from our culture. If I say I am going to practice my culture, I am not going to practice it half. I must do everything," says Mthombeni.

Lobola negotiations and heterosexuality

Mthombeni believes changes can still be done to the perception that Lobola is more a heterosexual practice.

"A union is a union, whether you are heterosexual or homosexual; a union is a union, even though it is defined differently in our country and other countries," adds Mthombeni.

She adds paying Lobola for her partner is something she wants to do because she believes in the African practice. Listen to her interview below. 

Cultural Expert, Professor Pitika Ntuli, says homosexuality in Africa is not a new phenomenon.

Cultural Expert, Professor Pikita Ntuli

Culture is dynamic, not static

Cultural expert Professor Pitika Ntuli explains that in gay Lobola negotiations, some couples decide who will pay, as is the case with Mthombeni and Sizakele. 

Izithakazelo and homosexuality

Professor Ntuli says most people including some cultural experts do not understand homosexuality in an African context and end up confusing society.

Ntuli believes ancestral genealogy is one of the reasons one is born homosexual.

"Now so what happens people come back, in another form. You may be a woman but then get yourself possessed by a male ancestor. And once you are possessed by a male ancestor, you may be trapped in a woman's body but the ancestor that possesses you is a male one."

During Heritage Month, which is celebrated in September in South Africa, there is the recognition that culture can and must evolve, even though it is grounded in past traditions. In the case of gay marriage, particularly in black culture, room can be made for people to be who they are and still practise their Lobola custom. In the case of homosexuality, black culture may need to look to the past to embrace the fact that homosexuals are not alien to African culture. 

(by Neo Motloung)