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When two women marry each other under African tradition, who pays Labola

Traditional African Lesbian Wedding

By Tsholofelo Wesi submitted by Janine Lourens

Not only did loving couple Sape ‘Moude’ Maodi and Antoinette ‘Vaivi’ Swartz have to overcome prejudice against their relationship because they are both women, but the issue of paying lobola once they decided to get married was another challenge for them and their families.

Lobola is traditionally considered to be an exchange between a man and a woman and their families, with the woman often being the recipient of the lobola.

Ten years after the decision to legalise gay marriage in South Africa, there appears to be a slight shift in some traditional circles around homosexuality. Prof Pitika Ntuli at Tshwane University of Technology says that being gay does not exclude one from being African. “If you look at isangoma, you see that homosexual practises are common,” he said.

But there are still stumbling blocks. Mduduzi Shembe, of the Shembe church, reportedly said recently that gays are to blame for the recent drought and that they “defile” God.

Sape and Vaivi wished from the start of their relationship in 2009, to express their love publicly and do so in a traditional way that reflects their culture.

On the day of the lobola negotiations in 2012, Sape’s family acknowledged to the ancestors that what was happening was something new, reassured them they have seen two women and admitted they were yet to learn.

The lobola negotiations were a new frontier for the Maodi family, a family from Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, as they hardly expected Sape, 24, to announce she is lesbian in 2009.

“I grew up in a family where there isn’t any homosexuality, there isn’t any lesbian, there aren’t any gays. The closest that we have had to a gay guy is that guy they [derogatively] called a trasie, who was our neighbour, and it remained a distant thing to us. My family could never relate to him,” Sape says.

Her fiancée Antoinette ‘Vaivi’ Swartz, 31, from Mamelodi, northeast of Pretoria, had already been out since 1997 when she was in Grade 7, and her parents were readily accepting.

In Sape’s 2009 matric year, their eyes met when Sape got into the Quantum taxi they were on.

“You know that pause for a couple of seconds, with the halo and the lights and everything,” Sape says, laughing, “I sat down and I just knew.”

Vaivi was sitting with her then girlfriend and had to find a way to talk to Sape, afraid she would never see her again. She poked the guy wearing a Studio 88 staff shirt, sitting next to Sape. Vaivi told the guy about sneakers she had seen in Studio 88 and asked for the guy’s numbers under the pretence that she would later enquire about the shoes.

She got off the taxi before Sape, and after it had gone three blocks, the guy received a call from Vaivi asking him to pass the phone on to the girl next to him.

“Ever since that day, the most nights we have spent apart is two nights, and it was dreadful,” Sape says. It was the two nights of the first lobola negotiations, as they are required to be apart for that period.

Vaivi describes herself as “deeply traditional”, so she was willing to fork out lobola money. Although Sape feels she is also traditional, she thinks of herself as a white-wedding kind of girl, in a long, flowy dress.

For her, a few lunches between families should be enough to unite them, and the lobola could instead be used to start a life together.

In the end they agreed to do it the old-fashioned way, after discussing what was important to them and their families. Sape says: “We don’t want to be in a situation where it is just about us.”

The Swartz family consider their daughter ‘the man’, so they felt she would give the lobola.

But Sape feels they are two women and “everything that happens between us is something that we both bring together”.

Because “it’s not her money or my money”, they decided to jointly pay the lobola towards the Maodis.

“Yes, my family will be the recipients, so we agreed that my family had their expectations and her family also had expected her to pay the lobola,” Sape says.

“I felt it was unfair because it is a 50/50 relationship, and I wasn’t comfortable with the fact that my family had to be the recipients.”

But they felt that it was the easiest way to make the process make sense to their families, from their heterosexual perspective.

On the morning on the day of lobola negotiations, the Maodis did the ritual of go phatlha, where they asked their ancestors to open the road for Sape, and her father addressed the novelty of the arrangement.

As per tradition, the Swartz family elders stood behind the gate at the Maodis and shouted their request for the Maodis to let them in. This procedure is called pula molomo, where the Swartz family had to propose a certain amount of money to make a request for the Maodi family to open the gate.

The Swartz families were finally called in and the negotiations began.

They were successful.

About three years later, in December this year, Sape and Vaivi will tie the knot in Mamelodi, Vaivi’s home.

“My mom told me her friends asked her, ‘where have you seen two women marry each other?’, and she said something that touched me. She said if the parents are accepting and can see how happy these kids are, then they shouldn’t worry about anything, and she urged them to come and see how happy we are,” Sape says.

People might dismiss them as mimicking heterosexuality or mocking tradition, but it’s not about that, they argue.

“We know our tradition. Just because we’re lesbian doesn’t mean we have to move away from those traditions. [Rather] let’s integrate our lives into the culture,” Sape explains.

“Culture is not written in stone; culture is historical, and if history does not progress with the next generation, we’ll be left behind. We want to teach our kids the same things that we were taught.”

“Of course!” they say when asked if they plan to have kids. They are already playing maternal roles to their respective nieces.

They are their sisters’ children who were born around the time they were getting serious with their relationship, “and we fell in love with them like they are our kids”.

Sape’s sister, Thabiso’s mother, passed away in 2009.

“We’ve raised them, but we don’t neglect the fact that we are not their moms. Your mom passed away. We are the moms that stepped in and said we are gonna love and nurture you.”

“Vaivi’s sister has three kids, but Vaivi basically raised the first kid, and she’s our shining star. She’s been with us from that point,” Sape says.

“The love we have for one another is so unlimited it can cross over to the kids. She loves Atang, I love Thabiso. There has never been a difference. We took those kids as both our daughters and that’s it. If I shout at Atang or Thabiso, I do it equally,” Sape says.

They plan to have two children of their own, and they hope to use the same sperm donor so they can have the same paternal DNA. The first child will come from Sape’s egg, and she will carry it.

The other baby will be Vaivi’s egg, and Sape wants to be the gestational surrogate – she will have the egg inserted into her to carry for the duration of the pregnancy.

“[The baby] will have the blood, and we will have the bond,” Sape says.

They have decided to take a double-barrel surname – Maodi-Swartz – because even though Sape would gladly take the name Swartz, she still wants to graduate from her LLB with her family name.

“So we’re doing a double barrel so I can graduate in my family name and be married to her at the same time. And my family is accepting, and she is more than happy because she is already a part of the family – my dad adores her,” Sape says.

“But they have to do a ritual for me before the wedding so they can welcome me into the family”

“So she can be fully taken in by the ancestors because if she takes the name Maodi, the ancestors will be her family now […] so we are going to formally introduce her to say welcome Vaivi, just like a man would introduce her wife [when she takes his surname],”

***This article first appeared in the Citizen Newspaper published on 26/11/2015 and was submitted to QL by Janine Lourens. Picture: Christine Vermooten

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