Innovation of the Week: The Lobola Calculator

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By Globe Staff 

What is it? A bride price app

Innovator: South African entrepreneur Robert Matsaneng


What was he thinking? For generations, South African suitors have offered lobola to the families of their would-be wives — bridal payments customarily made in cattle. But the negotiation, traditionally a monthslong affair involving dozens of family members, is being upended by instant messaging and electronic funds transfer. And entrepreneur Robert Matsaneng has taken the disruption a step further: creating an app, the Lobola Calculator, that gathers information on a groom’s work status and vehicle ownership to determine his ability to pay, asks about a bride’s age, education, and attitude toward housework to calculate her value, and spits out a figure — calculated in both cash and cows.

Did it work? The Lobola Calculator has been downloaded by more than 110,000 people. And another smartphone mainstay — the messaging service WhatsApp — has become a popular means for conducting negotiations. Some welcome the convenience. But the high-tech gloss on an ancient tradition has proved unsettling to others. A recent report in The Wall Street Journal included the story of a man whose online overtures were so upsetting to his fiance’s family that, as an apology, he had to add an extra payment: a sheep.