Mayor Dudu Mazibuko has defended the decision of Uthukela municipality, in Eastern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) to award scholarship to students who are still virgins.
The programme called Maiden’s Bursary Awards came on board in 2015. She said it was initiated in order to “reduce HIV/Aids and unwanted pregnancy” among young girls in the Uthukela district of eastern KwaZulu-Natal province”.
Mazibuko said this while speaking to BBC. She said that the 16 students selected for the award were virgins and that the girls are also expected to show evidence that they are still intact. This, she said would be achieved by regular virginity test. She further maintained that the virginity test would not be conducted by the district nor the universities concerned.
Not only that, the mayor said that beneficiaries had been tested and would perform a reed dance during the annual Zulu ceremony. The dance is done by girls and women during the famous annual Zulu ceremony for King Goodwill Zwelithini. Some also believed that being selected for the dance is another way of rewarding purity.
However, activists argued that this initiative is likely to be futile since it does not represent a larger struggle for the emancipation of HIV/AIDS in South Africa.
Not only that, Human Rights Groups have kicked against this move by Ms. Mazibuko. Speaking to BBC’s Focus on Africa radio, a spokesperson of the South African group People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa) said the bursary scheme by Uthukela municipality will never curb HIV in the municipal.
“Virginity testing will never stop the spread of HIV and Aids,”
“The conditions of the scholarship were a violation of the rights and dignity of the girl child”, said Idumeleng Muloko sai.
Also, another body known as the Government-backed Commission inveighed against the scheme. The body poured out its feelings through its chairman Mfanozelwe Shozi who told AP news agency,
“I think the intentions of the mayor are great but what we don’t agree with is giving bursaries for virginity,”
“There is an issue around discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, virginity and even against boys. This is going too far.
Reacting to the municipality’s decision, Sisonke Msimang also said the scheme is an epitome of “level upon level of patriarchal nonsense, unconstitutional misogyny and mixed-up madness,” and further described the initiative as “a terrible idea (that) has so many layers of ridiculousness.”
“Being sexually active and seeking an education have nothing to do with each other,” Msimang told Al Jazeera
Msimang is a policy development and advocacy consultant for the Sonke Gender Justice project in Johannesburg.
Another activist feels bad that “Only young women and girls are subjected to this practice. Boys are not tested, and hence are not stigmatised or rewarded for their virginity.” She rather suggested that “What is needed is dialogue, information, and the provision of free contraception. This would be a more strategic line of policy for the municipality to pursue.”
Not deterred by diverse criticisms, the spokesperson for Uthukele Municipality Jabulani Mkhonza maintained that the programme was structured in order to inspire “girls to keep themselves pure and inactive from sexual activity and focus on their studies”.
“Those children who have been awarded bursaries will be checked whenever they come back for holidays. The bursary will be taken away if they lose their virginity,” said Mkhonza .
In South Africa, an estimated 6.3 million people are infected with HIV. Records also show that one out of 10 persons have the virus. More so, Kwazulu-Natal notably has a soaring number of people living with HIV with 25.2 percent rate compared to South Africa’s 17.9 percent rate.
Following this development, the Department of Women said that the matter would be investigated. This was made known to Al jazeera by their media liaison officer.
“We don’t support anything that undermines the rights of women. If these details are true, we would definitely find it objectionable, and engage with the municipality to resolve it,” said Charlotte Lobe.