On Saturday, thousands of bare-breasted maidens will perform before the Zulu nation’s new king, defying criticism of this traditional ceremony and a dispute over the legitimacy of the royal succession. Tens of thousands of young virgins gather at the royal palace in the mountain town of Nongoma, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, every September to participate in the traditional reed dance.

King MisuZulu Zulu, 47, also known by his given name of MisuZulu kaZwelithini, is the newly installed head of South Africa’s largest ethnic group. After his father King Goodwill Zwelithini, who had ruled for 50 years, passed away last year, he was recognized as king at a customary ceremony last month.

During the dance ceremony, each girl will present a tall reed to the new king, which legend has it will wilt if the holder is not pure.

The ceremony is a traditional rite of womanhood, with its origins in the king’s selection of new wives from among his subjects.

This year’s festivities are especially anticipated because it will be the first time the dance has been held since the Covid-19 pandemic. “I can’t wait for the weekend. I’m so excited because it’s been a long time since we’ve all been together as girls “Thembalami Dumakade, 23, told AFP. Prior to the dance, the girls’ genitalia will be inspected, a practice that has previously sparked outrage from human rights advocates who claim it is demeaning and an invasion of privacy.

“The girls have the right to participate in the virginity testing if they so desire; it is their bodies after all. Those who say our traditions are out of date have a right to their opinion “One of the virginity testers, Nomagugu Ngobese, spoke to AFP by phone. “But it’s our culture; we don’t need to consult with anyone.”

‘Only one king’

The ongoing succession battle has also cast a shadow over this year’s event. According to local media reports, those opposed to King MisuZulu ascending to the throne have warned of “bloodshed” if the reed dance goes ahead.

“We have a high level of security on our side. Everything will proceed as usual, and we will welcome maidens from all over our country “Prince Thulani Zulu, the royal family’s spokesman, told AFP. “People are free to say whatever they want; after all, it is a democracy. They can all call themselves kings, but there is only one king “.

Misuzulu is considered the rightful heir by one faction of the royal family because his late mother, Queen Mantfombi Dlamini Zulu, the third queen consort and sister to Eswatini King Mswati III, was a royal princess.

However, Prince Simakade, the late king’s first-born son born out of wedlock, has been supported by dissenting members of the family because he is the eldest son and thus the rightful heir. According to local media, Simakade filed an urgent court application on Wednesday seeking to dethrone his half-brother. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to recognize Misuzulu as the rightful Zulu monarch was also challenged by the first-born son. “I promise I will work to unite the Zulu nation,” MisuZulu promised during his coronation speech last month, despite the fact that he has not publicly addressed the succession squabble.

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