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Durban - A retired academic has slammed the participation of Indian maidens in the Reed Dance as a political stunt and has said the Indian community is conservative and would not like to have its girls subjected to virginity testing, nor would it like their breasts to be exposed at the Zulu ceremony.
Retired academic Ashwin Singh has lambasted member of the provincial legislature Omie Singh and businessman Vivien Reddy, who spearheaded the participation of 120 Indian women in this year’s uMkhosi woMhlanga ceremony held at eNyokeni Palace, Nongoma, last weekend.
“They surreptitiously bused in girls as a representation of the entire community, which is not the case. They are merely politicians who seem to be using this opportunity to further their own personal agendas,” he said.
But Omie Singh disputed this, saying the aim was to expose these women to diverse culture, especially the Zulu culture.
“The idea was to let them interact with like-minded youth with an understanding of keeping themselves pure and observing abstinence.”
The young women were from two Phoenix high schools and had responded to an open call he said.
Ashwin Singh said while he respected Zulu traditions and culture and had no objections to the Reed Dance, the participation of Indian girls was likely to raise the ire of the Indian community.
“We are very conservative and do not allow Indian ladies to expose their bodies and/or breasts openly in public.
“As a clinical psychologist and active member of the Indian community structures, I know that the cultural norms in the Indian community would not allow this.
“It is part of the general norms that girls remain chaste until marriage, but there was no check or testing done to ensure this.”
According to reports, the Indian maidens were not subjected to traditional virginity testing and would not be in future.
Omie Singh said they had taken the young women’s word that they were virgins.
“In the future we will look at how this important aspect of the tradition (virginity testing) can be carried forward in consultation with elders and religious leaders in the Indian community. We didn’t want to frighten them (Indian maidens) in their first experience.” He said even in ancient Indian culture, virginity was revered.
However, retired traditional healer and virginity tester Makhosi Alvina Nokusho Bhengu believes Indian maidens should adhere to the ceremony in its entirety or not participate at all.
“This will erode our tradition and the way we do things. They can’t have one foot in and one foot out.”
Bhengu said the coming together of races and cultures was a great thing, but warned that compromising on such a fundamental part of the ceremony would ruin the tradition.
“How sure are we that they are in fact virgins? There is a reason why we test and these girls not undergoing testing will make it unfair for other girls.”
Dr VVO Mkhize, president of cultural body the Umsamo African Institute, applauded the initiative to involve women from other backgrounds, saying although the Reed Dance was a cultural practice of the Zulu and Swazi people, it was important not to politicise the matter.
“This should be taken as a realisation of a unified South African identity. There is a need to appreciate the traditions of each and every race and culture, and this move shows that we are one and are living the constitution which talks about tolerance,” he said.
The ceremony was revived by King Goodwill Zwelithini to encourage chastity as one of the ways of curbing HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Mkhize said it was this risk of disease that had driven people to revert to ancestral wisdom.
“We are living in a country where everyone is starting to be sensitive to primitive culture and traditions.”
Mkhize believes virginity testing is the Nguni cultural way of assuring virginity and even though Indian maidens would be joining the Reed Dance, their own cultural ways of assuring virginity were sufficient.
Princess Busi Zulu took a similar view. Indian and white maidens had been coming to the ceremony for years and passed through their own ways of observing their virginity, she said.
“If they like our tradition, as the Zulu Royal House we welcome them.”
Retired academic Ashwin Trikamjee said cultural sensitivity was required.
“The principle of the constitution is not only that we recognise different cultures, but also respect them.
Cross-cultural participation can’t go beyond the bounds of the cultural sensitivity. Breaching those traditions demonstrates a lack of respect and discipline for your own culture as one of the tenures of any culture is to respect others,” Trikamjee said.