- Title: SWAZILAND: Young virgins take part in Swazi annual reed dance
- Date: 2nd September 2012
- Summary: YOUNG MAIDENS PERFORMING REED DANCE
- Embargoed: 17th September 2012 13:00
- Location: Swaziland
- Country: Swaziland
- Topics: Arts,Royalty,Lifestyle
- Reuters ID: LVADNFLDUZWXQHZX6FFRPTECU1B9
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- Story Text: Thousands of young virgins from Swaziland and the Eastern Cape in South Africa arrived at the Ludzizini Royal Residence to pay homage to King Mswati III on Sunday (September 2) in the annual reed dance.
The Umhlanga Reed Dance, which takes place over eight days, is a traditional dance and ceremony where up to 80,000 Swazi virgins gather and dance for the Queen Mother, attracting thousands of tourists to a country currently facing economic hardship.
The centuries-old event is aimed at paying tribute to the Swazi royal family.
Thousands of virgins -- called maidens -- dress up in brightly coloured attire and sing and dance together as they deliver the reed, or umhlanga, to the royal residence.
Royal Swazi Princess Simile participates in the dance every year.
In a country with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence, she says it makes her proud to still be a part of the reed dance maidens at 24 years old.
"I like to go there because I am a virgin and I want to show that I am a virgin", she said.
Despite the negative perceptions of the reed dance, Simile added that she fully embraces the age old tradition.
"There are many girls out there, thousands. We enjoy it very much and we dance for our King and it's nice", she added.
The maidens have spent the night at the different places during the week prior to the dance, where they go and cut the reeds.
The reeds are dropped off at the royal residence, where they then dance before the king and the Queen Mother and thousands of the king's guests.
The king may choose a wife if he wishes to.
Swazi King Mswati III, who has at least a dozen wives and a personal fortune estimated at $200 million, faced unprecedented protests 18 months ago when his appointed administration ran out of money after a 2009 recession in neighbouring South Africa.
South Africa is scheduled to release the first tranche of a 2.4 billion rand ($285 million) bailout to Swaziland, Africa's last monarchy, in September.
The first tranche of three equal payments will be 800 million rand ($95 million) and subject to Swaziland meeting certain fiscal and technical conditions.
The loan was negotiated a year ago when Swaziland's government was battling a funding crisis caused by a slump in revenues from a regional customs union that usually accounted for two-thirds of its income.
However, the loan was not immediately signed by Swaziland because of its objections to Pretoria's conditions on political and economic reforms in the land-locked southern African kingdom, where political parties are banned.
Swaziland will repay the loan over a five year period, starting in 2015, by means of a debit order placed on their revenue shares from the Southern African Customs Union.
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