The topic of inhlawulo (damages) is an old, tired debate, but it is still an important part of our culture.
During a rant about the mother of his child, Zinhle Jiyane, on Friday, rapper Kiernan Forbes, popularly known as ‘AKA’ tweeted that he had paid Jiyane’s family for his child to have his surname. He was referring to inhlawulo that he had paid for impregnating Jiyane out of wedlock.
Cultural expert Nokuzola Mdende says many young men make the mistake of thinking that paying damages entitles them to certain rights. The truth is that it doesn’t give them any rights to the child, although it does give them some access to that child.
“When a man pays damages, they are not paying for the baby, they are paying for impregnating someone’s child when they haven’t married them,” Mdende says.
“In Xhosa culture if a woman has a child before marriage, that child belongs to the maternal family, therefore the child should take the mother’s surname,” she explains, adding that a child can only be given its father’s surname when the man decides to pay lobola and marry the mother.
When damages are paid, the man acknowledges that he is responsible for impregnating the woman and it also gives the two families an opportunity to meet and discuss issues pertaining to the child.
“If the man wants to see the child, his family is supposed to ask on his behalf,” she says.
Mdende emphasises that inhlawulo has nothing to do with the child, and therefore a man cannot run away from his responsibility of paying maintenance for his child because he has paid inhlawulo.
Another expert, Nomagugu Ngobese agrees with Mdende that the child belongs to the mother’s family, thereby stripping the man of any rights to the child.
In Zulu culture, when the father pays damages he is allowed to do cultural rituals for his child, however this does not mean he is allowed to come to the family’s home whenever he pleases. He still needs to respect the family and ask their permission to see the child.
Cultural expert Zolani Mkiva says inhlawulo is a very important part of black culture as it discourages people from having children out of wedlock.
“Inhlawulo is about teaching responsibility in our society. Our values need to be preserved. It is very important for our humanity, as a people, to maintain our dignity,” he says.
Mkiva says the matter of children is managed by families in black culture as a child born out of wedlock is raised by the grandparents. He says that as long as there is an understanding between the families, the father should be allowed access to the child.
He adds that the mother of the child is not entitled to the child either as she is also in the wrong for having a child before marriage.