At least 38 girls have died in a road crash while traveling to a traditional festival in Swaziland. About 40,000 descend on the king’s royal residence each year for the event, meant to celebrate womanhood and virginity.
Trucks carrying scores of girls to the annual festival collided near the town of Matsapha on Swaziland’s major highway, a human rights group said Saturday.
“According to inside sources, a total of 38 young girls have been pronounced dead, with more than 20 others seriously injured,” said Lucky Lukhele, spokesperson for the Swaziland Solidarity Network.
The victims were among the tens of thousands of young women traveling from across the country to take part in the Umhlanga Reed Dance at the king’s royal residence. The eight-day festival is a tradition in the tiny mountainous southern African country.
King Mswati III has sometimes chosen a new wife at the ceremony, which involves bare-breasted young Swazi women singing and dancing in beaded mini-skirts. The 47-year-old monarch has between 13 and 15 wives, according to different reports.
The king said there would be an investigation into the crash, and promised that the affected families would be compensated.
“We all have heard about the dark cloud that has befallen the ‘imbali,'” King Mswati said, using the Swati language word for flower, used to refer to the groups of women dancers.
Local media said the accident on Friday involved three trucks, and that some of the girls sitting in the vehicles’ open backs had been flung onto the road and run over. It’s not unusual for large groups to squeeze into open trucks in Swaziland, where transport infrastructure is poor and few families have their own cars.
Swaziland, home to 1.4 million people, is Africa’s last absolute monarchy. It has been ruled by King Mswati III since 1986.
– Reuters, AP