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Durban - R300 million has been set aside for a project to transform King Goodwill Zwelithini’s Enyokeni Palace in Nongoma from a sleepy hollow into a booming mini-tourism town.
It will be centred on the annual Reed Dance, which takes place in September. Girls from all over the country arrive for the traditional event, which includes virginity testing, with festivities spread over several days.
The plan is that the palace will eventually be surrounded by hotels, restaurants and B&Bs, that will create job opportunities.
The national Department of Arts and Culture has put up R300m for the first and second phases of the Enyokeni Cultural Precinct.
Department spokesman Mogomotsi Mogodiri confirmed the amount had been earmarked for the project.
Accommodation facilities for thousands of maidens will be built. The first phase includes a grass platform, a concrete surface with portable covers to protect them from the weather and portable ablutions and showers.
“Many maidens have died and many have been victims of rape. Their safety and reasonable comfort is of paramount importance,” said Mogodiri.
Other improvements include new fencing to secure the arena and sleeping area.
The first half of the royal square and walkways will also be paved.
“The performance area and formalised embankment for public viewing – in front of the existing pavilion – will be grassed and the new reed receiving wall will be constructed inside the palace,” he said.
A new footpath from the arrival point to the royal square would also be completed and the VIP area for 2 000 guests would be concreted.
Judge Jerome Ngwenya, deputy chairman of the Ingonyama Trust Board, said money had not been earmarked for the construction of B&Bs, hotels and restaurants, as these projects had been set aside for the private sector development.
“The money will be used to build facilities for the maidens. Previously we had a challenge of our children (maidens) not feeling safe, because they would use bushes to relieve themselves and would sleep in tents,” he said.
When asked to describe the size of a building that would accommodate more than 30 000 maidens, Ngwenya said, “bigger than any building in Durban”.
He said the project was initially allocated R200m, but the amount increased to R300m because the palace was in a secluded area with no water source or electricity.
Responding to reports that the costs could escalate to R600m, he said: “This R600m is just an estimation from unreliable sources. But there is a possibility the cost could surpass R300m.
A team, made up of architects, engineers, quantity surveyors and others had been put in place to prevent the inflation of costs.
National Treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane said his department was not aware of the project because it did not expect departments to inform it about every project they undertook.
The king’s spokesman, Mbonisi Zulu, confirmed that King Zwelithini had asked for the development.
Some political parties offered support for the project, saying it would provide safety and dignity for the maidens.
ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said it would enhance tourism.
IFP spokesman Blessed Gwala said because a number of cultural activities took place at the royal residence throughout the year, it warranted such a structure being built.
However, he could not comment on the budget for the development.
However, DA arts and culture spokesman George Mari said spending R300m was “ridiculous” and the king should use his R60m annual budget for the project.
He said the country was short of libraries and art centres.
“This is an insult to people who are crying out about services in many communities.”
Nomagugu Ngobese, the leader of Nomkhubulwane, a cultural group that specialises in virginity testing at the ceremony, said the lack of bathing facilities and toilets was a major concern.
They were also worried about the lack of security at a nearby stream used by maidens to bathe early in the morning.