. Re-Thinking Sexualities in Africa: Introduction
ginity testing. Virginity testing is said to be an ancient Zulu custom, applied by older women to their junior female kin as a pre-marriage control. To be sure, the impetus for a revitalization has apparently come from below, from older Zulu women themselves, and also seems to be supported by the young women who (presumably voluntarily) are subjecting themselves to the test. In this new, modern edition, virginity-testing is conceived as a measure to curb and control the spread of HIV/AIDS. Not surprisingly some ‘modern’ feminist bodies like the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) are squarely against the practice, invoking gender-and-development type arguments of bodily integrity, rights to privacy and gender equality (cf. Leclerc-Madlala 2001, 2003, CGE 2000).
However, both sides may be off the point. Those who use the African Renaissance project to revalorize traditions are off because in supporting ‘African customs’ such as virginity testing they show themselves unable (or unwilling?) to see that the context of the struggle has changed. In the present situation ‘virginity testing’ appears to place an absurd and unjustifiable burden of responsibility for controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS upon the shoulders of very young women; the custom totally leaves out the responsibility of men and poses no challenge to masculinities; it leaves patriarchy undisturbed. The simple and dangerous dichotomies are still at work: Mbeki and other people who favour going back to tradition seem unable to perceive the shifts, modifications, and subtle changes in emphasis to which any ‘custom’ anywhere is subjected. On the other hand, the CGE may be off because its argumentation tends to be too general and universalist; it does not sufficiently take the predicament of the old and younger women living in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic into consideration (cf. CGE 2000).
The overall argument in this section is that Mbeki’s lines of thinking do not bring us very far in these indeed complicated situations of which daily life in Africa, in South Africa, no less than elsewhere in the world, is composed. Of course Thabo Mbeki has got a point—but this point must be dealt with in different ways, which is what this volume aims to do. The ‘dark continent discourse’ is by no means dead and gone. On the contrary, it goes on multiplying, sometimes changing focus, but basically repeating itself; colonial continuities are still with us, reproducing dichotomies.