I’ve been asked why I didn’t write anything about the Reed Dance that was held in Swaziland last week.
Over the years I’ve written plenty about the Reed Dance (also known as Umhlanga). If you want to read what I wrote about the dance as a sex show, how ‘maidens’ are forced to dance for King Mswati III, how the king sometimes uses it to choose a wife, how the local and international media covers it and much more click here.
There wasn’t much new about this year’s Reed Dance, except, perhaps, that heads of state of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) attended. That old goat (and very dirty old man) Robert Mugabe, the ‘president’ of Zimbabwe was so impressed by the estimated 100,000 ‘bare-breasted maidens’ he said he wanted other African countries to have similar events.
For some reason that he never explained, Mugabe reckoned that his presence at this year’s Reed Dance proved that it was not ‘a sexual event bordering on exploitation’.
Swazi traditionalists say the Reed Dance bonds the kingdom and instils ‘good morals’ (virginity is uppermost in their minds) in girls.
Educated people have seen through the nonsense of this and say the Reed Dance portrays women as sexual objects.
One counsellor with a local children’s organisation which works towards rehabilitating abused children, was quoted by News Day, Zimbabwe, saying it was disheartening that heads of state – who were better positioned to spearhead perception change in society – would gather to ‘feast on naked young women under the ruse of upholding culture’.
She said it was ironic that the ‘so-called cultural celebration’ was, in fact, a culture of abuse.
‘Women’s virginity has always been a favourite topic among patriarchal societies, and the fact there is so much obsession about women’s sexuality is in itself an indication that something is wrong because societies are made up of men and women,’ she said.
A Harare, Zimbabwe-based social worker, Robert Mhishi, said young women also needed to be disabused of cultural notions that demanded that they parade semi-naked before men.
A young woman who led the Reed Dance was quoted saying, ‘This is our big day, the Reed Dance.
‘This is a celebration of our culture and we are very proud. We girls are encouraged to take care of ourselves. We are encouraged to stay girls and not to let others pressure us into sex.’
Mhishi said the best way young women could take care of themselves was through socio-economic empowerment which would ensure that they would not be sorely dependent on men for their survival.
News Day reports that critics say the ceremony has degenerated into nothing more than a beauty pageant, and does little to address the status of women in a country with the world’s highest rate of HIV infection.
‘The Reed Dance has been abused for one man’s [King Mswati] personal satisfaction,’ Mario Masuku, the leader of PUDEMO, a banned opposition party, recently told Reuters. ‘The king has a passion for young women and opulence.’
King Mswati, the last absolute monarch in sub-Saharan Africa, rules Swaziland where women have few legal rights and cannot turned him down if he chooses them for a wife.
Women are treated as minors, especially in the rural areas.