The traditional Incwala ceremony is in full swing in Swaziland, dubbed by a senior traditionalist leader as, 'what defines us as a nation; it is what every Swazi should be proud of attending despite any odds'.
Traditionalists call Incwala the 'national prayer' and the most sacred of Swazi ceremonies.
But last year startling details of what actually happened at Incwala were widely circulated.
King Mswati III is said to take 'muti' (narcotics), and allows himself to be licked all over his body by a snake while drugged. In one part of the sacred ceremony King Mswati has sexual intercourse with a drugged bull; in another he publicly has sex with two of his wives.
The accounts of goings-on at Incwala were given by Sithembiso Simelane who said his regiment initiation name is Sukulwenkhosi. He was a member of the Inyatsi regiment for about 10 years and said he 'got to see all the evil that takes place in the royal residencies and more especially at Ludzidzini royal residence (Lobamba)'.
Incwala is surrounded in secrecy so it is impossible to independently verify Simelane's account. His description has never been publicly denied by the king or his traditionalists. But, Swazi people who offer up private opinions (it is dangerous in Swaziland to publicly criticise the king, who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch) believe Simelane's account is probably more or less correct.
This week National Secretary Nhlanhla Dlamini told the Swazi Observer, the newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, 'Attending Incwala is not a question of choice, whether it is Sunday, Christmas or any other national holiday; we are expected to attend the event without fail especially because as warriors we pledged to ultimately respect the King and country.'
Another leading traditionalist Prince Sigombeni told the newspaper, 'Incwala is what defines us as a nation; it is what every Swazi should be proud of attending despite any odds. This is a national ceremony where we thank God and the ancestors for guiding and protecting us throughout the course of the year.'