Women’s activists have slammed this practice as an intrusive and unfair way to link the opportunity for education with sex. Palesa Mpapa, a member of the group People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa), recently told BBC News, as reported in their article titled “Why South African mayor offers virgin scholarships”, that Powa found it “really worrying” that the municipality had focused on women only, and that this discriminatory view would not adequately address social issues such as teenage pregnancy and lowering HIV infection rates. Similar sentiments were echoed by the DA, who have hailed the programme as infringing on the right to privacy and dignity of the young women. In an article by Ladysmith Gazette published at the end of January, the DA went on to say that while they respect that virginity testing may be a part of certain cultures, it was “inexplicable” for a government department to subject young women to such invasive procedures.
However, uThukela mayor Dudu Mazibuko has lashed out at critics of the bursary procedure and explained to Ladysmith Gazette that the municipality “did not go out looking for women who are virgins”, but rather tried to assist an organised group of young Zulu women with opportunities for education based on the instruction and training which they had received since pre-adolescence. Mazibuko went on to explain the importance that virginity has in Zulu culture, and the pride which young women take in their chastity. She also stated that the decision to help young women by affording them opportunities to study had a financial incentive for her municipality, as a group of women focused on their studies would act as role models in society and would be far cheaper to sustain than subsidising women and children on social grants. Mazibuko also clarified that the virginity testing was done as part of cultural rites which young Zulu women partake in, and was not a decision imposed on them forcing mandatory virginity testing. She also explained to Ladysmith Gazette that sympathy would be shown in instances of rape and sexual violence, which would be investigated in light of continuing a young woman’s bursary.
The BBC interviewed Thubelihle Dlodlo, an 18-year-old woman who is one of the recipients of this bursary. Dlodlo told BBC that remaining a virgin was her “only chance to get an education” as a result of the financial constraints her parents were under. Dlodlo also explained that she did not mind undergoing regular virginity tests because virginity testing was a part of her culture and “not an invasion of privacy” because she felt pride after confirmation of her purity.
In 2004, the SAHRC recommended that virginity testing be re-evaluated and brought within the parameters of the Constitution and the right to privacy in its submission to the Social Development Department. Many activists anxiously await the findings of the Commission.