R4m for biggest reed dance to date

2010-09-12 20:20

Durban - More than 26 000 Zulu maidens turned out for Saturday's uMkhosi WoMhlanga (Reed Dance) held at King Goodwill Zwelithini’s eNyokeni Palace at KwaNongoma.

Government in KwaZulu-Natal is keen to use the reed dance and other institutions of the Zulu ­monarchy – which costs the ­province about R40m a year – to generate funds to ensure that it eventually becomes self-sustaining.

In his state of the province address, Premier Zweli Mkhize outlined a programme ranging from making the monarch’s farms more productive to drawing tourists to Zulu cultural events.

Yesterday’s event, the 26th of its kind, was the biggest in history, with government coughing up R4 million for the two-day ceremony, which was conducted under tight security.

The maidens were escorted ­during the 2km walk to eNyokeni by marshals and female guardians from the areas they came from and who accompanied them on the more than 100 buses ferrying them to the palace.

The grounds in which they camped overnight were fenced off and guarded by police and marshals. Access to the entire area was strictly controlled.

Last year a stampede claimed the life of one maiden and several others were injured, while another was abducted and raped at an ­after-party.

Government sponsors

This year promotions by alcohol (marketing) and other companies were banned outright in a bid to keep away ­unruly elements.

Vukani Mbhele, spokesperson for provincial arts and culture MEC Weziwe Thusi, said government had banned alcohol promotions to maintain decorum throughout following last year’s untoward ­experiences.

Only government departments and corporate partners who helped sponsor the dance had ­displays. Almost 100 food vendors plied their trade on the outskirts of the area where the maidens were encamped.

Traditional leaders from throughout KZN, the Eastern Cape and other parts of the ­country attended in numbers, seated in an enclosed VIP area outside the palace walls.

The 74 government-sponsored buses and 33 funded by the eThekwini municipality were parked in a massive fenced off area down the hill from the palace, while the VIPs’ 4x4s and luxury sedans were parked in a separate enclosure nearer the palace.

Mbhele was upbeat about the event’s future, which government sees as a major money-spinner for the regional economy at KwaNongoma and Ulundi in ­Zululand.

“This is the biggest reed dance in history and we are convinced that the event will get bigger and bigger. We have had massive ­interest both from international media and tourists who are keen to learn more about South African and about the way of life of the ­Zulu people.

Virginity testing

“We are convinced that in years to come the event will become ­bigger and draw an even larger ­international interest. This event has been massive and a sign of things to come.”

Thousands of maidens underwent virginity testing throughout the villages and towns in the ­province ahead of their arrival at the palace.

In a departure from previous years, maidens were also given life skills training ahead of the event, including lectures in moral regeneration and workshops on HIV/Aids prevention.

Samukele Khumalo, eThekwini municipality’s gender co-ordinator, said the city had mobilised about 6 000 girls through ward councillors and outreach programmes to attend the event.

“This is a very important event which helps young girls understand their traditions and culture and helps protect them from negative influences,” said Khumalo.

“Interventions like these help keep young girls away from drink and drugs and other negative things, especially when combined with life skills training,” she said.