KwaZulu-Natal - King Goodwill Zwelithini has rejected attempts by “critics of Zulu culture” to prescribe the age of maidens undergoing virginity testing and when they should attend the uMkhosi woMhlanga (reed dance) ceremony, saying the testing exposes cases of rape.

Addressing thousands of Zulu maidens at the eNyokeni Palace in Nongoma, he said that, through virginity testing, maidens who had been sexually abused were able to explain to their guardians who had violated them.

This, said the king, resulted in those who had perpetrated these “barbaric deeds” being exposed and prosecuted.

During the past three years, he had observed those who “think they know” more about Zulus trying to prescribe an acceptable manner of conducting the ceremony.

“Yet they know nothing about us, our culture and our ceremony. They do not even know what these sacred practices seek to achieve,” said the king.

Those who sought to discourage him from instilling a sense of responsibility in Zulu maidens by encouraging them to preserve their virginity were unaware of the ills afflicting the nation, such as HIV/Aids, teenage pregnancy and abortion, the king said.

“Research shows that in 2010, 17 260 teenagers got pregnant in KZN schools. Recent reports indicate that in 2011 this figure increased by 13 000. When it comes to abortion, research paints a frightening picture, with 68 000 women having had abortions between 1997 and 2008.

“These figures do not show those who commit illegal abortions, or those girls who are under 18 when they have an abortion,” said the king.

Despite the criticism, his efforts had received recognition and appreciation from the UN, he said.

He told the crowd that the director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidebe, had visited his palace to express appreciation of the work done through a ceremony like uMkhosi woMhlanga in the fight against HIV/Aids.

He also rejected as misleading suggestions that he revived uMkhosi woMhlanga to afford himself an opportunity to choose a new wife, saying that since the revival of the ceremony in 1984 no such thing had happened.

“Then my question is: ‘Why am I being blamed and criticised when I try to protect the maidens from these dangers facing us today?’ It really angers me when attempts are made to stop Zulus from practising their culture and ceremonies which have not resulted in a single death.” - The Mercury