Sunday Times

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

- KHANYI ND­ABENI

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 tel­lus@sun­day­times.co.za or SMS us at 33971 www.timeslive.co.za

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Pic­tures: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE
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