KwaZulu-Natal - A middle-aged Shembe man’s insistence on taking a 14-year-old as his bride after her older sister reneged on the terms of an arranged marriage with him, resulted in the 14-year-old being “rescued” by social workers after a relative tipped off the police.
Now the girl’s family are facing ruin after the jilted bridegroom demanded the return of his lobolo.
Her mother told the Sunday Tribune this week that although she and her husband loved their child, they felt they had no choice when their elder daughter fell pregnant by another man.
We visited the family’s homestead in a remote part of KZN to find out why they agreed to an arrangement that is against the law.
In the inhospitable terrain we had to abandon our vehicle and hike for more than 5km through mud and a swift-flowing river.
We found the girl’s mother, Sindisiwe Biyela, 39, pouring out her heart to a neighbour in a well-maintained compound of three rondavels.
Biyela explained that she and her husband had wrestled with their decision to allow the man to claim their teenage daughter, but could find no other solution after accepting lobolo. Their 20-year-old daughter, whom they believed to be a virgin, was betrothed to the man and the wedding was scheduled for December 2.
Overnight, the arrangements were thrown into disarray.
“My daughter’s betrothed came to us and said he suspected she was pregnant. When we confronted her, my daughter admitted it. She had been impregnated by a schoolboy she was seeing behind our backs.
“The groom-to-be said he would not accept ‘damaged goods’ and demanded that we return the money he had paid in lobolo,” she said, weeping.
Biyela said he then insisted that her younger sister would be a perfect replacement.
“We were shocked when the lobolo delegation arrived and said we had a choice; we could hand over our younger daughter or pay back the lobolo.
“We refused initially because she is young and not ready for marriage, but even church leaders were putting us under pressure and we didn’t have the money, so we had no choice but to give up our daughter.
“Most of the R29 500 we received had already been spent on preparations for the wedding. In terms of our faith we would also have been expected to provide three cows for slaughter in a ceremony to cleanse the church. We were unable to do that.
“Then the man pointed at our younger daughter and said: ‘I will take her for my wife instead.’ We did not want to do it, because we know it is wrong, but we did not have any other way to make right what had been done.”
Philisiwe Gumede, the 14-year-old’s aunt, said the lobolo delegates’ demands were “beyond ridiculous”.
“How could we give away a 14-year-old? After this, I have seen it all in this world. When we initially refused, the man said he would speak to the girl himself. We convinced her to refuse his proposal, but the pressure from church leaders was too much, and we couldn’t pay back the lobolo in cash as he demanded.”
Biyela, a mother of four, said she “lived in fear” since the police, following a tip-off, swooped and rescued her daughter. The child is being kept in a place of safety at an undisclosed location. The rescheduled wedding was to have taken place on December 16.
“If it were not for my smallest daughter,” she said, pointing to a seven-year-old, “I would have taken my own life. It has been terrible and I will continue to suffer because we owe the man’s family and the church so much money, and we cannot repay it all at once. It will take a long time to work off the debt.
“We still owe him and will find a way to repay him, but not with our young daughter.”
When it came to the whereabouts of her now 21-year-old daughter, the mother expressed anger. “She has run off to Durban with her schoolboy.”
Biyela said despite the fear she felt at the possibility of reprisal, she was grateful to the family member who had alerted the police. “We don’t know who told them, but police arrived with social workers and told us there would be no wedding. I was relieved because we were never keen on the idea.
“There are still traditional coming-of-age rituals that we have to perform for her.”
She said she regretted the disgrace that her elder daughter had brought upon the family. “She should have said something instead of running off. But she is still my daughter. If she decides to come home I will welcome her.”