Zulu Virgin Testing in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa

Zulu Virgin Testing in KwaZulu-Natal South Africa

Nongoma is a royal city of KwaZulu-Natal (Zululand) in South Africa. King Goodwill Zwelethini, the hereditary king of the Zulu nation, lives there. His royal palaces are placed in Nongoma. These places are very interesting for tourists. Moreover, Zululand is the site of the royal Reed dance ceremony – an ancient traditional annual festival. But this festival has one feature. Only virgins are entitled to participate in the ceremony. Each girl must undergo virginity testing; this is a condition of participation.

Virginity testing is an old tradition in many countries. Originally this test was intended for young brides who had to prove innocence to their parents and the parents of their future husband because the result of the testing amount the pay that the groom’s family should pay the bride’s family.
         Currently this cultural ritual, «Reed dance», is used as a way of making sure girls of different ages (starting from earlier four years) stay pure and preventing teenage pregnancy and the spread of HIV / AIDS. The fact is one of the most acute problems of the province of KwaZulu-Natal is the massive spread of HIV infection among citizens, South Africa ranks first in the world in the spread of HIV, according to UN data for 2007. Among all provinces in Africa, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest percentage of HIV-infected persons (according to UNAIDS in 2009 – 39%). The King and the local authorities support the practice of virginity testing on young girls referring to the AIDS epidemic in spite of the ban on such a practice. The official purpose of the annual Reed Dance ceremony is to educate the Zulu nation, especially the youth, about the problems of morality and the need to respect traditional patterns of behaviour that prevent teenage pregnancy and reduce the risk of contracting HIV / AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The popularity of virginity testing is increasing because of the widespread belief that the epidemic is the result of a lack of control over female sexuality, which, in my opinion, violates the rights of women, primarily, an affront to human dignity.

The problem of virginity testing shows the enormous gulf between the “city” and “village”, African traditions and European rationalism. Such problems are always difficult to be solved.

On the one hand, the festival is the most important event of the year in Zululand, which attracts thousands of tourists. Reed dance ceremony plays an important role in the association of people with their king. The royal family is highly respected among the Zulu people and the festival is a national treasure. That is why taking part in the ceremony is an honour for young girls. Moreover, the girl who “successfully” passed the test and was declared a virgin brought her family respect.

On the other hand, a test for the virginity of girls is a clear example of gender inequality and social discrimination against women in society. Not all girls want to do this test, many of them are very scared of this procedure and do not want to feel humiliated. Nevertheless, the girls have to do virginity testing under severe pressure from parents and the public which can be considered a violation of personal rights and freedoms. Obviously, that chastity is of paramount importance in the hierarchy of values of traditional society. But, in my opinion, virginity testing is a very controversial practice because the result can’t be considered scientific, and therefore true. Often the virginity testing is making on the street surrounded by a crowd of people right in front of the Reed dance ceremony. This process degrades the dignity of women, not to mention inappropriate conditions for inspection. “Testers” are the elder women who have no medical license and the necessary knowledge to judge the previous sexual life of women. In addition, it should be remembered that the absence of the hymen can be caused by other factors. The test result, made incompetent, can be fatal in a girl’s life.

Zulu people believe that virginity testing and complete sexual abstinence of women is the best way to stop the AIDS epidemic. Not without reason, it is believed that an HIV-infected man can be healed, if he has sex with a virgin. That is, the girl who will be “successful” testing of virginity is not only forewarned of the infection, and vice versa is in even greater danger. Any reasonable person understands that virginity testing can’t help in the fight against HIV.

In conclusion, I want to say that virginity testing in Nongoma can be viewed as the local outbreak of self-organized health care, which speaks about the plight of the country; the government should give urgent attention to this problem. The government is obliged to provide its citizens with quality medical care. The complexity of the situation is the fact that virginity testing is a tradition and changing traditions or dealing with them is very difficult. We must act very delicately here. The government with civic organizations and volunteers should conduct more awareness, and educate about HIV/AIDS and the ways of its prevention and treatment. First and foremost, authorities need to work with those women who are engaged in “testing” because they are influential and respected people in their communities, a sort of “opinion leaders”.