The article discusses the perceptions of the custom of lobola (dowry) by the representatives of various population groups of the Cape Colony. The main sources for the study are the materials of the Commission on Native Laws and Customs of 1881, which was created by the Cape Legislative Assembly in order to develop the Criminal and Civil Codes for the African people. The author studied the testimonies of missionaries, colonial officials, and representatives of African people, both Christians and those who remained committed to traditional beliefs. The peculiarities of the perceptions of lobola custom among the representatives of each group were identified according to their origin, occupation and the nature of their involvement in the life of African society. The lobola turned out to be so firmly rooted in the traditions of the Africans that many missionaries were forced to tolerate it. Allowing Africans to live according to their customs, the colonial authorities nevertheless tried to incorporate them into the system of European ideas of justice and civilization, according to which lobola was associated with barbarism and backwardness. For Africans, lobola became a symbol of their identity; adherence to this custom not only did not weaken under the influence of colonial society, but acquired additional arguments in favor of its existence.