The Reed Dance Festival known as Umhlanga among the Swazi in Swaziland and Umkhosi woMhlanga among the Zulus in South Africa has boosted tourism for the respective country and province over the years. The festival took place from the 29th of August to the 4th of September in Swaziland.

In South Africa, young Zulu girls travel to KwaZulu- Natal every year early September to participate in this dance. The event took place on the 9th of September.The dance was reintroduced into the Zulu Kingdom in 1991 by the King of the Zulus, Godwin Zwelithini to combat HIV. King Zwelithini reintroduced the ceremony as a means of delaying sexual activity among young girls until marriage. The Reed Dance is a colourful cultural celebration held to promote respect for young women, preserving the custom of keeping girls as virgins until marriage.

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The young girls participating in the Reed Dance usually undergo virginity testing. Only virgins are permitted to take part in the festival. The methods of testing for virginity have been heavily criticized in the past.

The festival is now organised by the KwaZulu-Natal Arts and Culture Department in conjunction with the royal family. The festival has become so popular that it has been included on the cultural tourism calendar. This year, over 45,000 maidens were expected to participate in the festival, presenting reeds and dancing before the king.

Reed Dance
Zweli Mkhize and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi watch on as the maidens walk past His Majesty. Photo: Twitter/@ANCGTMkhize

This year marked the 33rd edition of the Umkhosi woMhlanga that traditionally takes place at eNyokeni Palace, Nongoma. In a press released by the Province of KwaZulu-Natal prior to the festival, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture had secured 75 buses to transport maidens. Municipalities providing their own transport were advised to vet driver’s records, and ensure the vehicles are roadworthy.

Prior to the event, one of the Department’s official, Mluleki Mtungwa was quoted by Eyewitness News saying, “It’s one of the events that brings lots of tourists in the province, so we want to urge our people to look after our visitors, make sure that they are safe so that they can come back again. This is very good for us as a province in terms of economic growth.”

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South African President Jacob Zuma who is Zulu has attended previous editions of the festival.

The festival is used as a platform to educate the young girls on various societal issues, ranging from sexual morals and teenage pregnancy. This year the focus was on human trafficking, substance abuse, safe use of social networks, hygiene and health workshops.