Bursaries and Booby Traps
Written by: Ajibola Adigun
Mayor Dudu Mazibuko of Uthukela Municipality in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa has insisted that the bursaries awarded to sixteen virgins is in the best interest of the scholars. Abstinence will make them focused on their studies and will teach them that there is a reward for delayed sexual gratification.
By awarding a bursary for an unbroken hymen, the mayor might have unwittingly placed a price on the heads of these ladies and made them ready prey for booty hunters.
Why we have to bring the bodies of these ladies into discussion before awarding them bursaries in the first place befuddles and betrays a peculiar kind of naiveté. It also continues a subliminal penchant for virgin fetishes. What is more, there is a trap that has been set on the bodies of those young women by the mayor in a province where sexual violence is rife.
The mayor’s preference for unsullied nubile bodies would have been all well and good if she weren’t a public servant whose personal moral compass shouldn’t drive public policy. If she had paid these monies for the girls’ scholarships out of her pocket, that would have been welcome and embraced even more by those who share her inclinations of wearing chastity belts in the province where HIV is the most prevalent.
In a province where sexual violence is as high as HIV is prevalent, it is rather unfortunate that the mayor, in awarding these virgin bursaries, has sent a message to those who may have been victims of sexual violence that they have lost something the world takes pride in and pays top dollar for. She may be privy to some exclusive knowledge but those who she has set the girls up for – the booty hunters – would have been worse off without her advertisement.
There have been claims that the ladies submitted to voluntary virginity tests and would be subject to subsequent testing as a condition to retain the bursary. This is where the mayor’s naiveté is unsettling. To keep the bursary, the ladies would not only have to abstain from the only sexual activity the mayor imagines but also continue the perpetuation of the myths concerning the hymen. Some myths die hard, no thanks to those that are comfortable with its continuation.
In defense of their motive, the Uthekela District Municipality says the bursary will discourage the girls from dating older men. There is a curious association between intentions and results that make politicians and bureaucrats ignore the thousand what-ifs. What if one of the ladies falls outside of the imagination of the municipality and falls in love, is ready to marry, meets a richer sponsor, explores everything else but… etc. etc.?
To have the private affairs of private citizens be subjected to public scrutiny is a disservice to the dignity of their persons. Whether it is called positive discrimination or something else, it betrays the lack of agency the municipality expects of her maidens. By incentivizing them to make private decisions public in ways that are in line with the disbursing of the municipality’s purse, the mayor has taken the decision off their hands. No one remains certain about whether their chastity is paid for or not.
In laying booby traps for these ladies by awarding them bursaries solely for being virgins, the mayor of Uthekela has, in the words of those who are concerned about these matters, ‘objectified’ them. Now no one can have a conversation without bringing what should not be a matter for discussion into the agenda.
Mayor Dudu Mazibuko has extended her municipal duties to policing sixteen bodies. We wish her good luck with that.
Author: Ajibola Adigun is a Mandela-Rhodes Scholar and African Students For Liberty member doing his honours in political sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.