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Durban - The annual Umkhosi Womhlanga (Reed Dance) was nearly plunged into chaos when a huge marquee collapsed under strong winds in Nongoma on Saturday, injuring two maidens who had been resting inside.
The girls, whose names were not released, sustained minor injuries and were rushed by ambulance to the nearby St Benedictine Hospital. A third girl was treated for shock after she fainted, said KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture spokesman Lethukuthula Mtshali.
The tent collapsed about 200m away from King Goodwill Zwelithini’s Nyokeni palace, where the Zulu monarch welcomed more than 30 000 bare-breasted maidens, who delivered reeds to him in a symbolic gesture to affirm their purity and virginity.
Ella Pill, a 20-year-old British student, stole the show when she joined a group of singing maidens taking reeds to the king.
Nicknamed “Zandile”, Pill, from London, underwent a virginity test by women from uThukela district. She is in the country with her boyfriend, Jonathan Hall, to film a documentary about Zulu culture.
Describing her two-and-a-half-week stay as “amazing”, she said: “I’ve learnt that the Zulu culture – and Zululand, in particular – is like nowhere else. It has very interesting people, and I’ve been very happy to be part of it.”
The event took place amid a heavy police and private security presence, following safety concerns sparked by an ongoing faction feud in Matheni, near Nongoma, which has claimed the lives of 20 people.
Although the proceedings went off peacefully, emergency services personnel and law enforcement authorities were kept busy.
A 42-year-old Nelspruit man was arrested after he was caught illegally filming maidens with his cellphone as they bathed in a nearby river.
“He will be charged with producing child pornography,” said Mtshali.
Four mobile clinics manned by 145 people were erected.
“They have seen about 90 people. There have been cases of people who’d forgotten to take their chronic medication, and others were treated for exhaustion and dehydration.”
Meanwhile, a logistics blunder left more than 150 maidens stranded and unable to make it to the ceremony.
The maidens, from Ohlange in Inanda, along with their leader, Antonia Zulu, were left behind when buses allocated to them were too full to accommodate them.
“They gave us two buses to share with four different districts, and by the time they got here, they were too full and we were unable to get on,” said a distraught Zulu, 60.
“They slept outside in the rain on yesterday (Friday) waiting for another bus to arrive. We still want to go today (Saturday), even if we are there for one day. The girls have been looking forward to this the whole year, and for them not to go is disappointing.
“To hire transport is very expensive, and we can’t afford to, which is why we rely on the free transport that is usually provided for us. I’ve been going to the reed dance for eight years and never had this problem,” said an upset Zulu.
The maidens, along with Zulu, went to John Dube’s house to plead for donations.
“We don’t have money to hire our own transport. Our parents used their last cents to buy us food for the trip, and now we are stuck here,” said a distressed Snenhlanhla Simelane. “My mum had to borrow money in order for me to catch a taxi from KwaMashu to here. I am very disappointed. This is something I’ve always wanted to do,” she said.
Maphindi Zungu, 14, said she was sad not to make it to her second reed dance.
“I was really looking forward to going again this year. My parents bought us food to carry along the way,” said a crying Zungu.
“We spent the whole night outside in the rain. We were cold and hungry.
“I am very sad to go home without making it to the reed dance,” she said.
Matric pupil Busi Cele, 20, skipped school and missed her tourism exam on Friday to attend the ceremony, but was shattered when they were left stranded.
“My mum borrowed money from the stokvel in order to buy me food to eat along the way. She still has to pay that money back, and it was all for nothing,” said an enraged Cele.
“The reed dance is very important to us. Others went home last night, but we stayed here in the hope that we were going to manage to raise the R4 000 deposit needed by the taxis,” she said.