Date: Thu, 30 Sep 1999 22:55:01 -0500 (CDT)
From: Grassroots Media Network <email@example.com>
Subject: South Africa: Virgin tests make a comeback
Virgin tests make a comeback
By Chris McGreal, in Osizweni,
in the Daily Mail & Guardian,
29 September 1999
Critics fear children pronounced 'pure' in traditional virginity tests
could become sexual prizes as Aids wracks KwaZulu-Natal.
OF all the examinations Valentia Hlophe will face at Qophumlando secondary
school, the one that matters to her is the test she has already passed. The
certificate proving it hangs in the 14-year-old's home for visitors to
scrutinise. It proclaims Valentia a virgin.
"This shows I have not been touched by evil things," she said.
Valentia is not alone. Many of her friends at school in northern
KwaZulu-Natal have earned their certificates in a resurgence of the ancient
custom of virginity testing. And it is not only girls in this South African
culture who seek to proclaim their abstinence.
The Zulu tradition was originally intended to assure the purity of brides.
It fell into disuse in many parts of the kingdom when migrant labour,
forced removal and what passed for white civilisation eroded family
structures. The scourge of Aids, already rampant in the north-eastern state
of KwaZulu-Natal, has revived the practice, encouraged by a revival of
In Osizweni township the revival is being driven by Sipho Malinga, deputy
headmaster of Qophumlando school and head of the All Africa Cultural
At Qophumlando school (motto: First Things First), about half the 1,500
pupils have undergone a virginity test. Fewer than 30 failed.
The testing can be individual or part of a broader celebration of Zulu
culture, involving the slaughter of cows and homage to the monarchy. In
either case the girls are told by the female teacher who checks them,
Thabile Ngcobo, to remove their knickers and lie on their backs. She then
checks to see if their hymens are intact.
"I don't use my fingers as some others do because it can damage the girls
and the next time they will fail the test," she said.
A group of giggling young women comes forward to declare themselves proud
to be virgins.
"Our parents encouraged us. They want us to stay virgins. People are happy
about what we are doing and they are encouraging us to carry on," said
Susan Hadebe, 15.
Mr Malinga, who is also the science teacher, tests the boys. First he
checks their penises. A hard foreskin is considered a sign of purity. Then
they are asked to urinate.
"If the urine is in the form of a shower it shows you are unfit. If it is
straight, you are a virgin. We get them to urinate in the sand. The urine
of a virgin makes a straight hole. We also test the knees. If the fingers
go in above the knee he has done the job," he said.
Among those with a virginity certificate on his wall is Raymond Malakoana,
"Virginity testing protects you from different types of evil. It makes you
avoid Aids and many other diseases. It assists you to abstain from crime
and drugs and to avoid bad friends who can spoil your life," he said.
Critics of the testing contend that there is no scientific standard by
which to ascertain whether a girl is a virgin, let alone a boy. Doctors
point out that hymens can tear accidentally. Occasionally a girl is born
South Africa's Commission on Gender Equality held a special meeting on
virginity testing and concluded that on the whole it is a bad thing.
There is also a danger in being recognised as a virgin. In some parts of
South Africa there is a belief that sex with a virgin cures Aids. The
police believe it is a major contributor to the rising numbers of child
rapes. But those who favour testing argue that the certificates help young
women resist the enormous pressure for sex.
"We have got a problem as Africans because we don't have babysitters," Mr
Malinga said. "Parents come back from work at dusk. They are exhausted.
They don't know what has been happening during the day, if their children
have been exposed to violence, crime and sexual practices.
"We have to show that we think all of those things are wrong. This way
virgins will congregate with virgins. It will be a proper cure for Aids."
Qophumlando school says no one is forced to be tested, but there are
pressures. Some of the girls taunt those who refuse to be examined, saying
it is an admission they are not virgins. Mr Malinga thinks that is probably
true in many cases.
To encourage the pupils, one of the teachers said that she too would be
examined. At morning assembly it was announced that Philisiwe Hlatshwayo,
25, had passed.
Testing is conducted at five other schools in Osizweni, on children as
young as six,"so they get used to it". Parents from outside the township
also bring their offspring. It does not always go according to plan.
"One time there were about 380 boys we were expecting for tests. Someone
told them we were using electricity on their scrotums so they ran away," Mr
But sex education is off the agenda, he said. "We are against the use of
condoms. We think condoms promote lust for sex. If a person has condoms he
can go to another man's wife knowing he will not get her pregnant.
"I don't think we should teach children about such things."
-- The Guardian, September 29, 1999.
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