Paying damages
Masanda Peter comes to grips with the tradition of paying pregnancy damages.

In the Xhosa culture when a young girl gets pregnant, the man pays ‘damages’ (intlawulo yesisu) for getting the woman pregnant. In the olden days the elders in the family would take the girl to the boy’s family and that is when the boy would admit to or deny making the girl pregnant.

If the boy admits to the deed then he will be fined in the form of a cow or whatever amount has been agreed upon by the elders.

In modern days some people no longer use cows but money - and this can range from anything between R500 and R10 000. I found R10 000 to be a bit ridiculous when one parent asked for it, this is not lobola we are talking about. That is one hell of an expensive encounter, I thought.

One man said ‘I am sure the damages fee will keep you going for the next few months and can be used towards the welfare of the child’ and then he did not pay maintenance money. While I am by no means condoning him not contributing towards maintenance, it does happen.

It makes sense for a man to support his child, but what is the guy paying for here – the sex?  Perhaps in times where young girls were virgins before they got pregnant then this was rightfully applicable.

I am also battling with is the term ‘damages’ and being paid for ukumoshwa (being damaged). As men would you not run away from something that is damaged? Is there a place for this in modern society if these are two consenting adults who had sex without protection and of course were aware of the possible results? If they were young why were they involved in a sexual encounter in the first place?

I understand the positives of this is to get the two families together and get the elders to talk through the necessary things that might need to be done for the child.

In some families they will not allow the father to see the child before damages are paid. You have a guy wanting to be with his child, but does not have money for ‘damages’ and the poor guy would be denied access.

As a society there are traditions we want to retain but I do feel that some need to be relooked because they come back to bite us.

Have you been part of this traditional process? Do you think it is still relevant?

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