30 August 2016

Swaziland: Dispute Over Reed Dance Safety

Photo: IRIN
The annual reed dance (file photo).

Organisers have said 98,000 'maidens' were transported in 80 buses to attend Swaziland's Reed Dance where they would dance half-naked in front of King Mswati III. But newspapers and social media have disputed the figure.

Innocent Maphalala, the editor of the Times Sunday, one of the kingdom's few independent newspapers, wrote this would mean each bus would have carried 1,225 girls on each journey or each bus would have to make 15 trips.

Newspapers reported each of Swaziland's four regions was given 20 buses. The main Reed Dance ceremony took place on Monday (29 August 2016) at the Ludzidzini palace.

Reed Dance Overseer Hlangabeza Mdluli was reported in the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, saying that 'safety was made a priority for the maidens'.

The SABC in South Africa quoted Mdludi saying, 'We used buses to transport the girls this year, this shows that things have changed and we want our people to be safe.'

The emphasis on 'safety' followed a tragedy at last year's Reed Dance when 13 women and children died when the open backed truck they were travelling was involved in a collision. The dead were thrown clear of the truck.

The number of dead was disputed, with the Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) putting the figure at 38.

Photographs later revealed the maidens were being transported like cattle. The girls were forced to stand up in the back of an open truck cheek-by-jowl. There was no space to sit down or even to turn around. Photographs showed that at least sixty children were squashed onto the back of a single truck. Many of the trucks that transported the girls were usually used to move building materials.

Tens of thousands of young girls from across Swaziland are forced to travel in similar trucks to attend the Reed Dance where they are expected to dance topless in front of Swaziland's King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch. Media in Swaziland routinely describe the girls that dance for the 48-year-old King as 'virgins' or 'maidens.'

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