BY ZIFISO MASIYE
It was after four aborted attempts at assembling that customary team of amadombo, an attempt at receiving and meeting our prospective in-laws as a non-negotiable precondition to observe the cultural rite of lobola.
Zoom meetings are sinking in as a new normal in my world. I’m sure in yours too. As an organisational development consultant, I have successfully done a couple of important programme evaluations, capacity assessments and strategy Zoomshops with minimum or no physical contact of the client, courtesy of the Covid-19 normal. Artificial Intelligence and the aggressive advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution have become our instant reality in a world that is changing faster than you blink. Implications on our entire lives are more far-reaching than any change the human race ever experienced.
Yet I could never quite wrap my head around the idea or possibility of virtual lobola proceedings…conducting a significantly tradition-facing ceremony using decidedly modern tools and channels. Least of all, that of my own daughter!
I am myself a traditionalist who subscribes to a reasoned conviction that the primary failure of today’s microwave courtships, cell phone relationships and quicksand marriages has to be found in our increasingly disengaged human relations, in the harsh demands of the impersonal rat-race of our lifestyles, these Westernised and highly urbanised cash economies, fuelled among other things, by this ‘twisted convenience’ of the super-modern highway of info technologies.
Thina, the block off the Ol-time-religion, we tended to be invested in patient, enduring courtships whose primary basis was physical human contact, solid inter-family intelligence and the primacy of person to person family sociology. We wrote hundreds of love letters and sent missions of aunties and friends to do our bidding just to outsmart rival suitors and earn the heart of a girl. We endured several background checks of self, deep scrutinies of family and often harsh judgments of one’s grooming and cultural rooting. We walked long nights to remote cattle sales to secure just a portion of lobola. As abakwenyana, we sat shoe-less, cowered on a reed mat (ecansini), in a corner, behind some creeky door only as you would find timid criminals and accused suspects as you walk into any of our wantonly abusive ZRP charge offices. Indeed, we walked through several walls of rejection, outright prejudice, undue hate and sincere due diligence appraisal before the gift of a wife was ours.
So often, I find my love for Thenji and the value my heart assigns to our union is inspired as much by the painstaking rigour, the rejection, the tormenting drag and niggling pains it took me to secure her hand in marriage as it is by her charming beauty and warm heart. Yes, the brilliant glow that we see in our union, is only evidence of the ashes and the pain upon which God built our marriage. We celebrate every scar. Then, that cumulative value could never have been secured in an 2-hour Zoom meeting!
Even before I wiped off the tears, celebrating her graduation early last year, my beautiful daughter announced to me she had met someone she intended to be with for the rest of her life. I just continued crying…only a different stream of tears!
Her first two attempts at commencing talks were rained off by successive Covid-19 lockdowns. A third by a loss in the family. And the last date proposed around Christmas found her, her mother and myself all gasping for dear life, Covid-stricken and quarantined. So finally, this is a beautiful, socking wet Valentine’s day. Zinanzile is here with us in our renewed lockdown. Her fiancé Wilbert locked down somewhere in Magaliesburg, SA. My only sister, her auntie, who must run the lobola show is locked down somewhere in Leeds, UK. Her prospective in-laws are similarly scattered in rural Mhondoro and strewn around this masked-up world. Her key emissaries, the Ncanes that have the intimate knowledge of this young romance are similarly locked down somewhere Witbank, Mpumalanga. ED just announced… except for purposes of burying, my own people may not gather… We are here, there and everywhere. Yet these young lovers have observed the rules and fulfilled any reasonable parent’s dream…They only seek to fulfil their marital dream without compromising the requirements of culture.
Many keep asking how social media, Zoom could be used for lobola without crippling the ritual’s fundamental cultural essence. Here’s how…
Zoom lobola programme
Sunday 14 February 2021
0900hrs: Arrival of pre-arranged Zoom participants. Setting up convenient Wi-Fi-supported Zoom sites. Identify an effective Zoom host to manage connections and co-ordinate the seamless flow of speakers. It is useful for your small specialised team to rehearse the process ahead of receiving the guests. Amongst the family and friends, I was lucky to have the services an IT expert, an accomplished priest, a human resources specialist, a gender expert and a great lawyer combining their skills to guide the process. It is important to assign technical support to gogo’s and aunties who are critical to the process, but may be unfamiliar with social media tech.
0930hrs: Setting up of Zoom connection and settling in of participants. Ensure data-supported back up phones should Wi-Fi network drop. Ensure to record all proceedings as minutes of the deliberations. Agreeing procedure and finalizing roles among the Hosting Team. (You will need a small, smart negotiating team in a separate WhatsApp group to do the in-box bargaining )
1000hrs: Chairman’s welcome and opening remarks. Chair outlines the purpose, meeting agenda/ objectives and key roles;
1010hrs: Request by Visiting Team to Enter. and proceed . . .
The visiting team’s agent, who is in constant in-box contact with them sends through a request from the visiting team to be allowed to enter the yard (admission into Zoom meeting) The requisite *Entry Fee* (Inhlawulo yokungena iguma) is proposed by the chair.
(through their in-box comms, the visiting team will settle the chargeable fees through a pre-arranged account, whose account manager will then confirm with the meeting if and when the relevant fee has been deposited)
1020hrs: Introduction of new meeting participants. Having been allowed entry into Zoom, visiting team is acknowledged by chair.
1025hrs: Proposal to commence talks.
The agent then formally introduces the visitors’ proposal for permission to commence talks. (“Bathi bacela ukuza khuluma labakoMasiye”)
At this point, members of the visiting team were seen to be sitting on chairs in casual shirts and t-shirts. They were severely admonished by a livid chairman and promptly chucked out of the meeting for disrespectful conduct. They were fined and re-admitted, upon which they re-entered without shoes, in formal jackets and ties and instructed to sit on the floor. (Even on Zoom, it is important to assert and underline the authority of the hosting team’, as per culture)
Floor proposes Isivulamlomo fee
(Same process as above)
1040hrs: Formal kick-off of deliberations by both family representatives. Visiting team and hosting team are now officially together. Joint meeting commences.
Chairman Reopens the meeting officially welcoming guests.
1030hrs: Opening Prayer and brief Word. (Priest)
1045hr: Chair introduces the hosting team and invites the visitors to introduce themselves and say their say.
Visitors Rep outlines their mission and requests to be officially recognised.
1055hrs: Chairman accepts the outline of visitors’ mission, paraphrases it and a fee is proposed from the floor …
1115hrs: Formal introduction of umkhwenyana. Who is he? Where does he hail from etc. The mkhwenyana’s representative is then asked to identify the girl, amongst many whom he claims to have stolen his heart. In turn , towards the end, the girl is asked who amongst the visiting party she knows and how… She must confirm her awareness and personal consent and commitment to the proposals made.
1130hrs: Chairman further breaks down the requests of the visiting team. Confirms them with their representative.
1145: Lobola proposals.
Inkomo yohlanga; (a beast personally dedicated to the bride’s mother) It is a recognition of motherhood and the special bond of mother and child. It is non-negotiable.
Ijazi likakababa; Some have tended to vary these tokens that give pride of place to parenthood, to suit more modern needs.
Amalobolo. (bride price) Like the very marriage institution, which it represents, amalobolo has come under increasing scrutiny and significant threat over the last few years. I have reserved a whole article to discuss this important part of African lives and relationship building. Negotiated. Never the figures, nor the monetary value, it is the spirit and value of family bonds and human connectedness that drives the bargain.
1230hrs: Any other business (The Cchairman invites abakhwenyana to clarify what further steps they intend to take towards the mission of fulfilling the new union)
1245hrs: Mfundisi’s advice and final words. Although present throughout, mkhwenyana is not part of the negotiations. Only at the tail end was he asked to appear.
1255hrs: Chairman’s closing remarks
1300hrs: Closing prayer and Llunch. The Zoom meeting does not and it cannot replace the important face to face meeting of the newly enjoined families. A future Covid-free rendezvous is proposed for mutual pleasantries , the slaughter of a beast and the physical consummation of relationships.
Our children are only rented property for whom we owe all glory to the owner God. We pray that in the 26 years He allowed us possession, we did not abuse our tenancy and displease God. We pray that the next tenant is even more loving and more caring to this child of God.