King’s Show Must Go On Fear and loathing grips Swazi villagers
| Families too poor to challenge Mswati’s iron grip, so ‘porn fest’ goes ahead despite deaths
NOMCEBO Sikhondze, 19, dreamt of becoming a doctor.
Tragically, however, this will never be, as Nomcebo, from Vikizijula Royal Kraal, is one of the young women who died on their way to the Swazi reed dance last weekend.
Nomcebo was among 13 victims buried during a mass funeral this weekend.
Richard Sikhondze, her uncle, remembers her unforgettable smile. “Even if you were mad at her, the minute she smiled you melted. She didn’t like my job as a taxi driver and wanted to study to become a doctor and take care of the family.
“She promised to do well this term, and I was to give her R400 if she took position one in her class this term. She died before we could see her school report,” he said.
Richard regarded her as his first daughter after her father, his brother, died years ago.
She died on her way to cut reeds with her three cousins — Nelile, 17, Luhle, 17, and Noncedo Motse, 16.
They were to deliver the reeds to the Ludzidzini Royal Residence.
Three indvuna, or leaders, who accompanied imbali (maidens), also died.
The cousins were together on a flatbed truck when it collided with another vehicle along the Mbabane-Manzini highway.
Nelile has been discharged from hospital but is too traumatised to speak. Luhle is in a coma and Noncedo is in critical DREAM DASHED: Nomcebo Sikhondze condition.
Nomcebo’s mother, Glenrose Sikhondze, said the young women were excited to go to the reed dance and show off their traditional attire.
“[In the days] leading to the event, they practised songs and danced together. It is really hard for Nelile to accept that Nomcebo is no longer with us,” she said.
Glenrose said the family had been receiving support from the government and did not blame anyone for what happened.
“I won’t stop the girls from attending the reed dance. It is part of our culture. Accidents do happen.”
In Duze, another village affected by the tragedy, the gravel road leading to seven homesteads was upgraded by the local government this week. GRIEF-STRICKEN: For some, bidding a final farewell to the five young women who were buried yesterday became too much to bear
Since the accident, the Swazi army and police have been patrolling the area.
Villagers and some of the affected families refused to speak to the media.
A villager, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, said King Mswati III had issued a warning to families not to talk, especially to the South African media.
The government and the royal house had given the families groceries and were paying for funeral costs.
Fatal events, such as the crash, were normally kept secret as they dented the king and the country’s image, said the villager.
“The majority of girls [who were caught up in the crash] come from poor households, so they can’t even complain about the condition of transport government provided them.
“The king makes it a point that every girl attends. Radio ads play almost every three minutes as a build-up to the event,” said the villager.
Another villager, who also did not want to be named, said chiefs also threatened to fine parents who did not allow their daughters to attend the event.
In other cases, some families were evicted from their villages if they failed to obey the king and chiefs’ instruction.
“So what can we do? We don’t own any land here. All the land belongs to the king,” he said.
The death toll remains in dispute, with opposition voices putting the fatalities as high as 65, whereas the government in- SOLDIERING ON: Representatives of the Swazi army kept a watchful eye on those mourning five of the young women who died in a horror crash last weekend sists the figure is 13.
The Communist Party of Swaziland has called for a boycott of all future reed dance events, saying what is being described as “traditional culture” is merely a “porn fest” for King Mswati and his brothers.
The party accused the Swazi government of capping the number of deaths to limit criticism of the king’s regime.
Party general secretary Kenneth Kunene claimed households were expected to contribute R100 towards the reed SHOW OF FORCE: Swazi soldiers give a gun salute during yesterday’s funeral service, at which five young women were laid to rest. Villagers were under instructions not to speak to the media dance and that those who refused to allow their daughters to take part in the event were forced to pay a fine.
Swazi government spokesman Percy Simelane denied the allegations.
“Participating in the reed dance is not compulsory.
“These are opportunists who want to make a quick buck,” said Simelane.
He also defended the reed dance’s going ahead despite last week’s accident.
“The reed dance is in the bracket of our tradition and we cannot stop it once it’s been started, much like a wedding — even if a member of the participating family dies.”
The reed dance takes place during the third-term school break.
It is popular among Swazi girls as it gives them a chance to socialise with other young women from different parts of the country.
Former indvuna for imbali, Noluthando Nhlengethwa, 29, said more than 100 000 girls aged eight and up attended the event.
During the eight-day reed dance, girls are encouraged to remain virgins and attend classes on HIV/Aids and how to conduct themselves.
The girls also received gifts from the royal house, including shoes, food hampers and toiletries to take home.
Yesterday, thousands of Swazis braved the cold to bid farewell to some of the young girls who died last week. During the funeral, girls who survived the crash danced and sang farewell songs.
Today the others will be given a state funeral.
A representative of the royal house, Mangome Ndzimande, said the girls were regarded as heroes because they were killed serving the king. Comment on this: write to email@example.com or SMS us at 33971 www.timeslive.co.za