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Reed Dance: 54-Year-Old Virgin Attends Ceremony

Durban - After being tested by virginity testers at the hospital where she spent most of her life due to epilepsy, Nelisiwe Mbatha has fina...

Durban - After being tested by virginity testers at the hospital where she spent most of her life due to epilepsy, Nelisiwe Mbatha has finally taken part in the reed dance.

The 54-year-old maiden from Osizweni in Newcastle, KZN, was one of thousands of maidens who went to Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma on Saturday.

They went there to present their reed to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini as a sign of their purity.
Nelisiwe told Daily Sun she spent her life in hospital since the age of 12.

“Occasionally, doctors would bring in virginity testers to the hospital and I participated,” she said. But it was only last month that she decided to be part of this year’s dance.

“I’m glad I came. It feels good being part of thousands of maidens who pride themselves in staying pure,” she said. Her sister, Nomgqibelo Ndlovu (40). was there to support her.

“We found virginity testers and asked them she be allowed to go, although it was late,” said Nomgqibelo. Virginity tester Neli Zulu from Amajuba district said Nelisiwe was found to be still pure.

“We had to run our own tests. I must say we were uncertain because of her age,” said Neli.
Maiden at a Reed Dance

Speaking at the reed dance celebrations, Zwelithini said: “In practices like this one, there are classes reminding people of who they really are and where they come from. This is to prepare you for being good women who will raise good leaders one day.”

The king said the practice had been running for 35 years under his rule after its revival in 1984. In South Africa, the ceremony is known as Umkhosi woMhlanga, and takes place every year in September at the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal.

The girls come from all parts of Zululand, and in recent years there are also smaller groups from Eswatini, as well as more distant places such as Botswana and Pondoland. 

All girls are required to undergo a virginity test before they are allowed to participate in a royal dance. In recent years the testing practice has been met with some opposition.

The girls wear traditional attire, including beadwork, and izigege and izinculuba that show their bottoms. They also wear anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and colourful sashes. Each sash has appendages of a different colour, which denote whether or not the girl is betrothed.

As part of the ceremony, the young women dance bare-breasted for their king, and each maiden carries a long reed, which is then deposited as they approach the king. The girls take care to choose only the longest and strongest reeds, and then carry them towering above their heads in a slow procession up the hill to Enyokeni Palace.

The procession is led by the chief Zulu princess, who takes a prominent role throughout the festival. If the reed should break before the girl reaches that point, it is considered a sign that the girl has already been sexually active.

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