Reed dance 'highly exploitative'

The annual Zulu Reed Dance (uMkhosi woMhlanga) in Nongoma on 31 August 2013. Picture: Reinhardt Hartzenberg

CAPE TOWN - Gender activist Nomboniso Gasa says the annual reed dance exploits young women and allows older men to mark young girls based on their virginity.

The annual event sees young girls, among other things, undergoing virginity testing in Nongoma northern KwaZulu-Natal.

King Goodwill Zwelithini has been promoting the tradition as a means to discourage sexual activity among young girls and protection against HIV/Aids.

During the event over the weekend, he also called on Tourism SA to promote the annual event in Nongoma.

However, some activists are opposed to the tradition calling it sexist as it only targets girls.

Gasa told The Redi Tlhabi Show the reed dance is part of a rite of passage.

“The reed dance in fact is originally a Swati practice and not a Zulu practice. It has however become part of the Zulu practice. I’m referring to that because I want to make a point that shows that cultures are influenced from outside cultural practices and that cultures are not insular and that they are evolving.”

Gasa added that the practice put women at risk.

“It puts a burden on young women to prove their virginity and protect it. Umkhosi womhlanga [reed dance] was introduced during the time of King Shaka, where basically the young Zulu maidens would gather together in a festival and celebrate being maidens. There wasn’t as much emphasis on virginity.

“Now one of the problems is that we have a practice today which puts an emphasis on a young woman’s purity at a time when they are at risk of sexual victimisation by older men and by men who are looking for young maidens.

“Secondly, we also have a situation where young girls have to prove they are pure virgins whereas on the other hand young males do not have that same pressure. Young males are in fact encouraged to go out there and be wild.”

She says scientifically, it is almost impossible to prove one's virginity and that casts doubt over the virginity testing.

However, those who support the practice argue that it is meant to promote cultural values and encourage young people to respect themselves.