Participation of Indian-origin girls in Zulu fest sparks row

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IsiZulu is the mother tongue of a quarter of South Africa's 50 million population. Reuters IsiZulu is the mother tongue of a quarter of South Africa's 50 million population. Reuters
SummaryA controversy has erupted over Indian-South African girls participating in a traditional spring ceremony.

A controversy has erupted over Indian-South African girls participating in a traditional spring ceremony in which young women parade before the Zulu King to confirm their commitment to remaining chaste before marriage.

A group of Zulu maidens who took part in the Royal Reed Dance Festival last week have rubbished the idea of opening the annual event to other races, saying that this would dilute the value of the ceremony.

They accused King Goodwill Zwelithini of giving preferential treatment to Indian and white maidens while paying scant attention to people who have been the backbone of the event since it was revived 29 years ago.

The King and several local Indian leaders close to him announced after last week's ceremony that the festival would be open to all races in future.

Prominent businessman and philanthropist Vivian Reddy, who accompanied a group of Indian girls to this year's ceremony, said they planned to bring many more girls next year.

In the ancient ceremony, which was revived three decades ago by Zwelithini, hundreds of young Zulu maidens from across South Africa march in scanty traditional clothing and most of them bare-breasted, to present a reed to the King at his palace in Zululand, north of Durban.

But the Indian girls, most of them wearing saris and some of them traditional embroidered Zulu items, did not bare their breasts, raising the ire of some Zulu young women.

A group of Zulu women from Nomkhubulwane Culture and Youth Development Organisation in Pietermaritzburg objected to the participation of the Indian girls and one white British national.

They claimed that a serious cultural ceremony was being made out as a fun event by girls from other races.

"Indian and white girls should first believe and respect our traditional religion. They should go through virginity testing and they should dress like all maidens," the organisation told the daily The Star.

Sihawu Ngubane, professor of Zulu at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, agreed, saying the festival could lose its cultural identity.

Part of the process is certification of their virginity by older tribal women as they advise young Zulu girls in their preparation for womanhood.

However, the Zulu royal family said it would not force girls from other cultures to go through virginity testing or to wear traditional attire as that was not part of their culture.

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