Durban - King Goodwill Zwelithini has made an impassioned plea for education officials to give Zulu maidens a day off from school later this month so they can attend the Reed Dance in Nongoma, Zululand.
In previous years, the event took place over a weekend, but this year it is starts next Friday and ends on the Sunday.
Royal Household Trust spokesman Kwena Kubheka said more than 70 000 maidens were expected for the annual event at the Enyokeni Royal Palace .
Kubheka said the king had added an extra day to accommodate the large number of participants.
He said the king had asked for the girls to be excused from school so they could participate in the event.
Kubheka said the entire Friday would be dedicated to maidens presenting reeds.
“On the next day the king will deliver his address, and later there will be a music festival,” he said.
Kubheka said the music, which would feature popular artists whose names were yet to be confirmed, would continue on Sunday.
Education spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said schools with girls who would participate should write to the department indicating how school work would be caught up.
He said it was procedure to submit a motivation when days were taken off for sports days, Diwali and other religious holidays.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa president, Basil Manuel, said it would be preferable for the girls’ education not to be interfered with.
“If a child misses a day of school it is a serious loss. At the same time, we have a cultural perspective that must be respected.
“As much as we respect the culture, we would prefer the event to happen on Saturdays and Sundays when schooling is not affected,” he said.
The palace has also introduced new facilities to ensure the girls’ safety.
Kubheka said 25 Jojo water tanks would provide clean water for the them to bathe. Previously they bathed in a nearby stream, but this was stopped when men were seen spying on them.
“Cubicles have been provided for the girls to bath in a secluded area, where they have privacy,” he said.
Kubheka said various higher education institutions would exhibit at the palace this year to encourage the young women to further their studies.
Government departments, public entities and private business would also exhibit.
“The Department of Health will be there to encourage the girls to keep fit and healthy by exercising,” he said.
About 350 buses were expected from KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Swaziland.
Kubheka said the king had instructed the Road Traffic Inspectorate to apply strict enforcement traffic safety measures.
Last year nine maidens were killed when the bus they were in crashed on the R66 between Eshowe and Melmoth after the event.
Meanwhile, in Swaziland thousands of maidens will attend the reed dance before King Mswati this weekend in Mbabane.
They too have been provided with showers and basins and stopped from bathing at the Lusushwana River for privacy and safety. The bathing site is next to the Eludzidzini royal residence.