Durban - A group of Zulu maidens who took part in last week’s Royal Reed Dance have rubbished the idea of opening the annual festival to other races, saying this would dilute the value of the ceremony.
The young women also accused King Goodwill Zwelithini of giving preferential treatment to Indian and white maidens while paying scant attention to people who had been the backbone of the event since it was revived 29 years ago.
This comes after the king and an Indian politician and businessman announced during the ceremony at Enyokeni Palace in Nongoma, Zululand, last week that the annual festival would be opened to all races.
The young women, members of the Nomkhubulwane Culture and Young Development Organisation in Pietermaritzburg, said the ceremony was their way of communicating with their ancestors, but other races were taking part in the festival for fun. They said they were contemplating pulling out of the event if Indian and white girls, who did not understand its significance, were allowed to take part.
“If Indian and white girls do take part they should believe and respect our traditional religion. They should go through virginity testing and they should dress like all maidens,” said Nomkhubulwane spokeswoman Mabo Gwala.
Sihawu Ngubane, professor of Zulu at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, agreed, saying the festival could lose its cultural identity.
The Zulu royal family said it would not force girls from other cultures to go through virginity testing and to wear traditional attire as that was not part of their culture.
Gwala said the participation of Indians and whites would be “an insult to the ceremony’’.
“This ceremony should be conducted correctly, or it should be cancelled,” she said.
Gwala said the maidens felt undermined when a young British woman, Ella Pill, led them while she was not dressed appropriately for the festival.
Pill, whose breasts were covered, was carrying a reed that she presented to the king.
“While we are forced to kneel when talking to the king and royal family members, Ella and other Indian girls just stood up and looked straight at the king,” Gwala said.
“The king even hugged her, while we have never had the privilege to hug our king.
“She participated without providing the proof that she was a virgin.”
A group of young Indian women also participated, most of them wearing saris.
Nonkanyiso Conco, who is the director of Nomkhubulwane, said anyone who participated in the ceremony should do it in a Zulu traditional way, or not do so at all.
“First, those Indian and white women should go through virginity testing in a traditional way. I get tested every month. As we were waiting to collect the reeds, police pushed us aside to open a space for Ella to pick up the reed ahead of us and lead us. I felt undermined and insulted,” said Conco.
Princess Busi Zulu, a royal family member in charge of organising the ceremony, said the king was using the ceremony to create unity among cultures.
“In 1994, when we were commemorating 20 years since the ceremony’s revival, we had lots of Indian women dressed in their traditional attire, and this created a colourful event, which the king liked.
“People from other cultures will continue to be welcomed. Their cultures do not allow them to expose their breasts and we respect that,” said Zulu.
Ngubane said he was also concerned that the event was losing its meaning and value.
“It has definitely been diluted, and I feel it is now taking the wrong direction,” he said.
Ngubane said the participation by other races was just political window-dressing.
“This ceremony is a prayer to thank the ancestors for helping our young women to remain virgins. Other races undermine black people’s religions so they cannot take part in our prayers.”
ANC MPL Omie Singh who, with businessman Vivian Reddy, brought the Indian maidens to the ceremony, said the king was keen to see the Indian community participating in royal ceremonies.
“Although we do not understand the ceremony, we could not say no when our king invites us. He first invited us to a cleansing ceremony on December 27. We brought about 1 000 Indian people and the king was so impressed. He again invited us to the Reed Dance.
“It is up to the king to pronounce the criteria that we should meet to participate in a traditional event.”