In South Africa, thousands of young virgins dance for the Zulu king

posted on 09/17/2022 16:56


(credit: RAJESH JANTILAL / AFP)

With bare breasts and some reeds, thousands of young people presented themselves this Saturday (17/9) to the king of the Zulus, the traditional leader of the main ethnic group of South Africa, in a rite that formerly served for the sovereign to choose their wives.

Interrupted by the covid-19 pandemic, the “dance of the reeds” is normally performed every September, which marks the beginning of spring in this country in the south of the African continent.

Legend has it that if the girl is not really a virgin, the reed will not be pointed towards the sky. Brazilian Mail

Most of the young women arrived the day before in groups led by an older adult. At dawn, they bathed in the river to “purify” their bodies.

With her feet in the shallows, 16-year-old Amahle Shange dips her hands into the current. “I can’t believe that the time has finally come”, tells AFP this young woman who is taking part in the dance for the first time.

“I saw the older girls go to ‘Umhlanga’ (junk in Zulu) and I was very curious,” he says.

She and her friends duck into tents to finish getting ready, wearing short pleated skirts and multicolored pearls around their necks, waists, and hair.

The ceremony takes place in the hills of KwaZulu-Natal, a province in the southeast of the country, facing the Indian Ocean, in a palace in the village of Nongoma, stronghold of the Zulu royal family.

Before the dance, the young women are examined: only those who are virgins can participate in the rite.

Human rights defenders consider these virginity tests to be a violation of intimacy and a degrading act for young women.

“Girls participate in virginity tests if they want to, it’s their bodies. Those who say our traditions are outdated have the right to have their say,” explains Dr. Nomagugu Ngobese, who carries out the tests, by telephone.

But “this is part of our culture, we don’t need anyone’s opinion”, he adds.

palace dispute

Once prepared, each of the young women takes a reed before heading to the royal palace of Enyokeni. From a circle of warriors with spears and shields, leopard-skinned King MisuZulu kwaZwelithini emerges and accepts the first reed from a crowd of about 10,000.

“Since I was born, this is the first time I’ve seen such a large number of young men and warriors watching a reed dance,” he says in front of the women.

The 47-year-old, who already has two wives and at least four children, was crowned, according to tradition, last month after the death of his father, Goodwill Zwelithini, who reigned for 50 years.

The ceremony is held amid a dispute over the legitimacy of the new Zulu king, which has been poisoning the palatial environment for a year.

MisuZulu kwaZwelithini is the son of the former sovereign’s third wife, his favorite. The first woman denounced the succession in the courts, which dismissed the challenge.

Prince Simakade, the late king’s firstborn but born out of wedlock, also filed an urgent appeal this week as he considered himself the rightful heir.

The Goodwill Zwelithini brothers also claimed the throne for another candidate they chose.

The country has 11 million Zulus, a fifth of the South African population.

In this young democracy with eleven official languages, sovereigns and traditional leaders are recognized by the Constitution. Kings without executive power exercise great moral authority and are deeply respected.

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