Andile and his brothers grew up in an orphanage, so financial security is extremely important to him. When he was working at an NGO as a youth facilitator at the age of 30, he met Lebo who was 22, and he knew that she was the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.

After three years together, they shared the happy news with their family: they wanted to get married. Lebo’s family were ecstatic, and Andile’ siblings were also delighted that their small family would be expanding.

 

 

There was no question that they would have a traditional African lobola ceremony, so Andile started saving for the bride price and for the costs of the food and celebrations. He also put away money for the other ceremony – the white wedding that his fiancée and her family also wanted.

This, according to Winnie Kunene, a financial advisor and money counsellor, is a challenge that many young African couples face when starting out on their lives together. They are culturally bound to have a traditional ceremony, but they and their families desire a more modern Western wedding as well. One wedding doesn’t come cheap, and the costs of two weddings can quickly spiral out of control.

“Think of the dress, the ring, venue, food and drinks, invitations and the honeymoon,” says Winnie. “This could cost anything between R70 000 and R100 000. After these two magnificent celebrations that meet the parents’ expectations, the young couple is then sent off to start a new life without a cent and with a mountain of debt.”

One wedding is enough!

After Andile had paid R16 000 in lobola and additional money towards the cultural ceremony, he started looking into the costs of the white wedding. “I realised that in addition to the R20 000 I had saved, I would also have to borrow around R15 000 to cover the costs,” he says. “With my salary as the breadwinner, the loan repayments would drown me.”

By this time, Andile and Lebo also had a son, and Andile felt that his priorities were providing for his son’s education and a roof over his head. The potential of that R20 000, cleverly invested, started to seem very appealing to him.

Winnie believes that this is a financially savvy shift in priorities. “Your goals as a couple should really be the driving force behind what you do with your money. Do you want a big wedding bash for one day of your lives, or to save the money for a deposit on your house? Do you want that big wedding and then to live with your parents for decades to come? Remember that only very few people can afford it all, and you probably aren’t one of them.”

Being “man enough”

Andile sat down with Lebo and her family and discussed his concerns, pointing out the future benefits of being debt free and of growing the money he had saved. Although they saw his point, they were not convinced. “They felt let down. They thought that I wasn’t being man enough. But they listened to my argument and accepted that I was determined to provide a good future for my wife and son.”

For Andile, who has had to overcome a number of hardships, “being man enough” is about making the right decisions to stay financially secure and to consider the future, rather than making a public show of affluence with money he doesn’t have. While he doesn’t believe that he’s heard the last of it – his in-laws will raise the issue again – he is convinced that he’s doing the right thing.

Winnie agrees. “Why do people feel compelled to put themselves under so much financial pressure and risk choking their new marriage to death before it even starts by having two ceremonies?” she asks. “Is our heritage of celebrating our marriages culturally not good enough? Should a marriage be a ‘white’ wedding for it to be considered legal?”

Defining success

“Some people think that black people doing a white wedding is a show of success. My definition of success is different. I think a show of success is being able to provide for your wife and family and not struggling because you took out a loan you can’t afford,” Andile says.

Winnie points out that while the wedding might seem like a priority in the early stages of a relationship, so many things will soon become more important – like owning a home or having enough money to send your children to a good school.

“It’s a great feeling to be excited about planning a lovely wedding.  But surely you can’t stop there.  There is life after the ceremony – in fact, there’s lots to think about. A few years into your marriage, you will begin to curse the day you met because you are swimming in unnecessary debt right at the start of your lives together. This is a classic case of voluntary debt slavery.”

There is no question that Andile has made a financially astute decision that will stand him and his wife in good stead for their future together. The only problem is that Lebo and her family aren’t convinced, and Andile might have to stick to his guns in the face of a great deal of opposition now and in the years to come. Hopefully their future financial security will speak for itself.

“We should all be thinking about how we can reclaim, appreciate, restore and celebrate our living heritage,” says Winnie. “There’s nothing wrong with our cultural marriage ways. They are beautiful and legal.”