Nongoma – A recipient of the Uthukela District Municipality's controversial "Maidens Bursary" has hit back at its critics during the 2016 Umkhosi woMhlanga reed dance at the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma on Saturday.Zanele Mngomezulu, 20, from Ladysmith, who received the bursary from the municipality because she was a virgin, said this was her sixth time at the reed dance.She presented her reed to King Goodwill Zwelithini on Friday, the first day of the three-day cultural festival."I have been attending the reed dance since I was 15-years-old and I find it so fascinating. I have been doing it with other young women under the guidance from our professions mothers."I feel offended and discouraged to hear that there was such a negative response to what our municipality has done."Mgomezulu was responding to the fact that the bursary scheme was met with widespread criticism, with the Commission for Gender Equality later declaring it unconstitutional.On January 16, young women were awarded the "Maidens Bursary Award" by the uThukela District Municipality for remaining virgins.Awards for excelling in matric examsAs a condition of receiving the bursary, young women had to undergo virginity testing every school holiday. Should they be found to have lost their virginity, the bursary would be taken away.The bursaries were given to the girls during the Mayoral Matric Excellence Awards, where 100 matriculants, including those who were not virgins, received awards for excelling in their matric exams.Mngomezulu said the bursary was going to assist many young women from disadvantaged backgrounds."The bursary was especially going to help those who those young women from rural families whose parents are struggling. I am discouraged and angry at the same time because I am one of those who have benefited from the bursary."Mngomezulu said the bursary was still funding her second-year Bachelor of Education studies at the University of Zululand.She encouraged other youth women to abstain from having sex before getting married."There is a lot of things that we learn during the camps with the other young women and when I am a teacher one day I am going to teach children how to carry themselves."Proud to be a virginShe said she was proud to be a virgin."I can stand from the crowd and show the world that I will not bow to pressure to have sex. I will wait for my husband."One of the virginity testers accompanying the young women from UThukela was Majele Zwane from Ezakheni in Ladysmith.She said of the 16 young women who received bursaries, two made it to the reed dance."We don’t understand why the municipality was being criticised for educating our children. There are many matriculants who brought their CVs because they wanted bursaries because they did well this year," Zwane said."We will fight against those who say that these children should not be educated. We will go back to the municipality to ask them to assist us get these children educated."She said it was important for young people to abstain from sex until they get married."Parents need to encourage their children to abstain from sex. There are children who are being raised by single fathers and they bring their children to the reed dance."Our culture dictates that they abstain. Even if they do not get married, they must work hard and make sure that they abstain from sex."She said the young women were tested every month and attended the reed dance so that they could get the king’s blessing."The King encourages them to respect themselves. When they respect themselves, they will respect their elders. They need to know that older men are their fathers and it hurts us to hear about this blesser phenomenon," Zwane said.Thousands of young women have presented their reed to the king.The festival was first introduced by Zwelithini in 1991.The Zulu king's vision was to encourage young women to abstain from having sex, which would have an impact on the sexual transmission of HIV/Aids amongst young people.