Filmmaker explores the true price of a bride in her two-part documentary about lobola

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Filmmaker Sihle Hlophe put herself in front of the camera while exploring the true price of a bride
Filmmaker Sihle Hlophe put herself in front of the camera while exploring the true price of a bride

Many girls dream of their weddings – right down to the venue, dress, makeup and guest list.

However, no young girl considers what the lobola means or entails when planning her big day.

Except for filmmaker and director Sihle Hlophe, whose enlightening two-part documentary series Lobola: A Bride's True Price? is currently airing on SABC 1.

It dissects the bride-to-be’s thoughts on lobola.

Documenting modern perspectives on this practice was an idea that came to her after her efforts to film a doccie on the story of Mapungubwe. “Whenever I tried to look for funds, I would be asked for a contemporary spin.

"So, in my observation something that I thought that Bantu people hold in high regard is cattle. I wanted to do a film about lobola, but I didn’t know exactly how.”

Inspiration soon struck for the filmmaker, however, after she got engaged.

In Lobola: A Bride's True Price? Sihle turns the camera on herself and talks about her reservations about lobola's transactional, patriarchal, and heteronormative aspects.

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When she was starting to do the documentary in 2017, she was in the process of getting engaged, she was 27 years old and still deciding whether to do the whole traditional process or not. She had to share her own story while visiting four other couples who are in the process of being wed.

“My team encouraged me to be the subject of the film, at first, I was very reluctant because being in front of the camera is not her thing. After some, I thought maybe the story won’t be as engaging if it wasn’t a personal story.”

Going into her personal spaces she had to have a small team and one she could trust to ensure that she does justice to her story deciding whether she should continue with her journey and start the lobola negotiations.

“My first step was to speak to my family to get their views on lobola and after that, I would introspect and then speak to them again about me possibly not doing it. From there the journey unfolds. After speaking to them, I go deeper into the practice by going to the lobola ceremonies of other couples.”

Sihle attend the lobola ceremonies of three other couples to learn more about the practice before making her final choice. During the negotiations, their cultures collide, revealing that they have different ideas about what lobola is and how it should be done.

“There are four steps in the lobola process: asking for consent to negotiate, the actual negotiation, the acceptance of the groom then the acceptance of the bride.

"During those steps my stance was clear from the beginning, I was concerned about the transactional language that is used, and socially constructed gender roles. All those things I was concerned about were brought up in each lobola ceremony I attended.”

She says she was not comfortable with some of the things but with everything, there is a good and a bad side.

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She tells Drum that she loves to see families coming together and see the love growing and expanding.

“It was beautiful to see how some of the families honoured their daughters and the gift-giving when they acknowledge people who passed on. When I started the film, I thought this is transactional and patriarchal, now I am more aware of African spirituality and lobola is a deeply spiritual ancient cultural practice that has a huge aspect of Africa that brings two families together.”

She says she didn’t like the idea that the man’s worth is measured by the size of his pockets, and the fact that a woman’s worth is discussed in the table like that can be dehumanising.

“When a woman is called damaged, but they don’t look at the man the same way. A man can be sexually liberated as he wants to, it doesn’t take away from his character and worth. Also, your worth based on your education can be a bit elitist because other people didn’t have an opportunity to go to school."

The second part of the doccie will air next week Monday.

The ending, reveals Sihle, will be a bit of a cliffhanger so she doesn’t want to spoil it for the viewers.

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