Ilobolo, the Bride Price That Comes 'At A Price' and the Narratives of Gender Violence in Mamelodi, A South African Township

By Mazibuko, Nokuthula Caritus | Gender & Behaviour, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Ilobolo, the Bride Price That Comes 'At A Price' and the Narratives of Gender Violence in Mamelodi, A South African Township


Mazibuko, Nokuthula Caritus, Gender & Behaviour


Introduction

In this article I focus on how the ancient practice of ilobolo instigates or promotes violence in intimate relationships in Mamelodi Township, Pretoria, South Africa. How do some women in this community perceive gender violence resulting from ilobolo? I used the cultural context of domestic violence against women to discuss the debates scholars have on masculinity in formulating the identity of an African man, as well as the conceptual framework of socialisation of gender as identity, followed by the findings and conclusions.

Ilobolo And The Cultural Context Of Domestic Violence

Dlamini (in Posel, Rudwick & Casale, 2011, p. 106) defines ilobolo as "bride price" in the context of cattle in African society, with a link between women's reproductive labour and the bond created between the two families of the bride and groom. Dlamini argues that ilobolo was always paid in cattle and the number of cattle varied, depending mainly on the status of the father of the bride (in Posel et al, 2011, p. 106). African culture has been influenced over the years by capitalism, since money has also been introduced as "payment" of the ilobolo.

Culture is defined as a set of characteristics that includes the beliefs, practices, values, norms, and behaviours that are shared by the members of a group (Kasturirangan, Krishnan & Riger, 2004, p. 319). Culture links the individuals in a group, and its multidimensionality manifests itself in the ways people perceive and interpret their world; furthermore, culture is passed down across generations (Kasturirangan et al, 2004, p. 319). According to Andersen and Taylor (2002, pp. 60-61), culture is a complex system of meaning and behaviour that defines the way of life for a given group or society. It is shared and learned indirectly through observation and imitation, and it also encompasses knowledge, art, morals, laws, customs, habits, language and dress.

South African scholars refer to domestic violence as a desire to exert power and control over women, which falls under the rubric of a "culturally" entrenched pattern in traditional communities (Bowman, 2003, p. 858). While the term "domestic violence" is not necessarily gendered, domestic violence is often associated with women as victims and men as perpetrators. South Africa has many such communities where domestic violence is culturally entrenched, and where men exert power and control over women; moreover, domestic violence is on the increase in South Africa. A cultural twist to domestic violence is that in certain cultures, beating a wife and violence to a wife are tolerated as a response to infidelity or other infractions to the family "honour" by her (Liang, Goodman, TummalaNarra & Weintraub, 2005, p. 75). In some communities, the term domestic violence does not even exist; in other communities, religious and social norms hold the view that domestic violence is a private matter between partners rather than a crime for which the perpetrator should be held legally responsible. It is also observed that some women might have trouble recognising domestic violence as a problem for which help should be sought (Liang et al, 2005, p. 75).

Ideas and attitudes portrayed in African cultural notions of male patriarchy abound within marital relationships where the subordination of women is underscored by the tradition of ilobolo, which reinforces the notion that a husband has purchased and now owns his wife, including her labour and sexuality (Zondi, 2007, p. 22). In fact, the custom of ilobolo underscores the power dynamics in African communities. However, patriarchy is a visible characteristic of all societies in Southern Africa. Moreover, the payment of the bride price to the family of the wife prior to the marriage makes it difficult for women to leave abusive husbands, unless their families are willing to return the amount paid (Bowman, 2003, p. 853).

Dlamini (in Posel et al, 2011, p. 109) points out that particularly isiZulu speakers view the paying of ilobolo to be their "cultural duty", with the payment instilling a sense of pride, and they feel that ilobolo negotiations should precede marriage. …

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