The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) recently rescinded its earlier calls for the abolition of cultural practices like ukuthwala and virginity testing, saying that people’s beliefs, cultures and choices should be respected. ZILUNGILE MNISI asked Durbanites what they think.
Mandisa Pelser, 25, waitress, Durban
I used to go for virginity testing until I was 18. I did it because it came from deep down within me. It wasn’t about pleasing anyone but about the pride I had regarding my womanhood. With that said, I feel that virginity testing should be a choice for girls, because it is about them after all. I do however think that it was a bad idea for the ANCWL to back down on abolishing the law of virginity testing because then some girls would have been free from this practice that forces them to lie about their virginity. Some go to the reed dance knowing very well that they aren’t virgins but they do it under false pretences to make their parents and society happy. I am totally against ukuthwala, because a friend was once a victim but she managed to escape because she couldn’t handle being forced to sleep with a man she hardly knew.
Sibongiseni Mthiyane, 21, IT student, Durban CBD
Ukuthwala is a practice that I will never understand because I don’t get how a person gets the satisfaction of abducting someone and forcing her to love him. This practice is abusive towards girls and I think the ANCWL should go back to banning this violation of women’s rights. My sister used to go for virginity testing and she would tell me what happens there. For example, some girls go there knowing very well that they aren’t virgins and they bribe the women who check their virginity. I think both practices should be made illegal because they have lost their meaning and they should just be practised as a choice.
Khethi Gumbi, 20, nursing student, Estcourt
I see nothing wrong with virginity testing and girls going to the reed dance. This is a cultural practice that has been in the Zulu culture for decades. This is a way in which the Zulu culture is celebrated and how they promote that young girls preserve themselves until a certain age of womanhood, where they are ready to engage in sexual intercourse. The women’s league should let those who believe in this practice participate in it because culture can never be updated to fit the 21st century and promote the manner in which most girls behave today. I do not have a clear opinion on ukuthwala because I do not really understand how it works. I understand forced marriages, but this form of marriage is strange. Ukuthwala is basically promoting sexual and physical abuse and I think it should not be practised at all.
Ntombifuthi Bhembhe, 45, teacher, Durban
Both these practices have lost their initial meaning. In our days, we went for virginity testing because it was something that we wanted to do and as much as it wasn’t about our parents, we were happy to make them proud. Over the years, virginity testing has just lost its meaning. The new generation grew up knowing this as a norm and therefore they want to live up to it. This is not wrong, but going for testing while you know very well you are not a virgin is. This is where the value has been lost; that’s why I feel it should just be stopped and someone’s virginity will only matter to them. Ukuthwala is just something that should not even be considered because it affects human rights. Even the people who believe in it should ask themselves if they would like it if their own child was abducted and forced into marrying an old stranger just to live up to culture.
Bulelani Shabalala, 47, self-employed, Ladysmith
Honestly, as a father, I would not allow for my child to be forced into marrying a man as old as I am just to live up to a cultural practice. I think only those who would allow it should practise it, if it’s such an important part of their culture. We should also consider that times have changed and no matter how we try to preserve culture, some practices will stand in the way of human rights. These days we have the right to privacy and that’s where it clashes with the cultural practice of virginity testing. Young girls could actually decline to be tested if they do not want to because it is a matter of privacy. The ANCWL should have just stuck to the initial decision of making both these practices as illegal because culture has evolved.