Rape, violence, diseases, families losing their composure… Panic stricken South African parents have turned to Zulu traditional practices to protect their children from a morally and sexually depraved society. They dream of a paradise of virginal purity. The Hymen and foreskin are being examined for defects.
A rather peculiar examination took place at the Qophumlando high school, alongside many other schools, in the North East of South Africa, recently. For the students, it was undoubtedly the most important examination of the year. 1 500 teenagers were lined up to take a virginity test! Besides examining the hymen and foreskin for defects, this purely Zulu ceremony also demands a cow sacrifice and homage to the Zulu monarchy.
The girls, made to line up, are ordered to lower their underwear and slowly lie prostrate on the ground. Thabile Ngcobo, one of their teachers, then examines their vaginas to see if their hymens are intact. Meanwhile, inside one of the classrooms, Mr. Malinga, the school director and also a physics teacher, tests the purity of boys. The director examines the knees of his pupils. According to him, “the knees are” apparently a “good indicator of purity” and “a tight foreskin is a sign of virginity.”
While many proudly sign up to take part in these examinations, some refrain from them because of fear or timidity. But refusing to take part in this process does not come without fingerpointing as they are immediately accused of immorality. According to a very serious looking Raymond Malakoana “Taking the test repels demons. It serves as protection against AIDS and other diseases. It also protects you from crime, drugs and untrustworthy friends”. The 20 year old boasts about the fact that he just passed the test. It has made his parents very happy. But the 30 students who failed the test face social rejection.
Parents attach great importance to this ceremony. “They come back from work exhausted. They do not know what happens in their absence. They do not know if their children have been abused or subjected to sexual practices,” said Mr Malinga on their behalf. This strange and unscientific method is reassuring. Their hope is that adolescent virgins one day marry among themselves. Many, however, wish that their virgin children never get married.
Innocence and ignorance
For doctors, traditional practices used to detect virginity are criminal. They confirm that the absence of the hymen among some girls cannot be blamed on sex. As for the virginity test for the boys, it has no scientific basis. The strangest thing about this whole process is the fact that these alleged virginity tests do not include sex education lessons.
Teenagers leave the examination premises happy and still as ignorant as they were upon their arrival. They wish they will remain virgins for the longest possible time. For them, the whole thing is completely abstract.