Virgins dance before new Zulu king

The maiden dancers will also have their genitalia inspected.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AFP) — Thousands of bare-breasted maidens will on Saturday dance before the new king of South Africa’s Zulu nation, defying criticism of this time-honored custom and a row over the legitimacy of the royal succession.

Every September, tens of thousands of young virgins descend on the royal palace in the mountain town of Nongoma in the southeastern KwaZulu -Natal province, to take part in the age-old reed dance.

The newly-crowned head of South Africa’s largest ethnic group is the 47-year-old King MisuZulu Zulu, also known by his official title as MisuZulu kaZwelithini.

He was recognized as monarch at a traditional ceremony last month following the death last year of his father King Goodwill Zwelithini, who had reigned for 50 years.

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, rooted historically in an occasion for the king to select new wives among his subjects.

This year’s festivities are eagerly awaited — it will be the first time the dance will take place since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prior to the dance, the girls will have their genitalia inspected, a tradition that has previously drawn an outcry from rights advocates who say it is demeaning and an invasion of privacy.

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