Thubelihle Dlodlo says she wants to be a role model
Thubelihle Dlodlo says she wants to be a role model

Thubelihle Dlodlo is nervous about leaving home in Emcitsheni village in rural KwaZulu-Natal. The 18-year-old has won a prized scholarship, but there is a catch: she only qualifies for the funding if she keeps her virginity.

Thubelihle Dlodlo says she wants to be a role model
Thubelihle Dlodlo says she wants to be a role model

“Remaining a virgin is my only chance to get an education because my parents can’t afford to take me to school,” she says.

To continue receiving her funding, Ms Dlodlo has to undergo regular virginity tests but she says she does not mind.

“Virginity testing is part of my culture, it is not an invasion of my privacy and I feel proud after I’m confirmed to be pure.”

The age of consent in South Africa is 16 years, though there is an exception which makes it legal for those older than 12 and younger than 16 to have sex with each other.

Even with a strict interpretation of the law, Ms Dlodlo is already more than two years over the age of consent, but is only just starting her university career.

But activists argue these tests are intrusive and that it is not fair to link opportunity to education and sex in this way:

“What is really worrying is that they are only focusing on the girl child and this is discriminatory and will not address problems with teenage pregnancy and HIV infection rates,” says Palesa Mpapa from campaign group People Opposing Women Abuse.

“It’s not only the girl that is to blame,” she says.

uThukela municipality mayor Dudu Mazibuko, who introduced this special category dedicated to virgin girls, disagrees.

“The scholarship is not a reward but a lifelong investment in the life of a girl, we are also not condemning those who’ve made different choices because we accommodate them in other scholarships,” she said.

The council offers more than 100 scholarships, 16 of which have been given to virgin female students.
Culture and tradition

In this part of the country, virginity testing is common practice. In Zulu culture, virginity testing is done by elderly women.

It qualifies Zulu maidens to participate in the annual reed dance which takes place every September at Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s royal palace.

This practice is not against the law in South Africa but it has to be done with consent.

Community leader Dudu Zwane has made it her mission to encourage young girls to abstain from sex. Affectionately known as “Mum Dudu”, the 58-year-old gives talks at schools.

“It’s very important for these girls to focus on their studies and stay away from boys,” she says.

The retired nurse also conducts virginity tests on young women. She agrees that her methods are not scientific but says she looks out for certain signs to prove that the girl has not had sex.

“The social standing of young women who remain virgins increases and many girls take pride in their results after being tested,” she said.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini recently questioned the merits of virginity testing.

The practice “compliments other harmful practices such as female genital mutilation”, she said in a statement which upset traditionalists.

In rural parts of KwaZula-Natal, virginity is celebrated and remaining “pure” is a source of pride for families.

Ms Dlodlo says her friends are also virgins and envy her for being awarded the scholarship.

She says she does not have a boyfriend, as she doesn’t want to find herself in a position where she is pressured to have sex.

“I want to be a role model”, she says.



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