Road accident kills 38 girls on way to dance for king of Swaziland (dpa German Press Agency)

Johannesburg (dpa) – Dozens of girls on their way to dance in honour
of the king of Swaziland are dead after a road accident, local media
and monitoring groups reported Saturday.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network, a human rights group, put the death
toll at 38.

The girls and young women had been riding to the annual Umhlanga Reed
dance on the bed of a lorry when it was involved in a crash Friday on
a highway between the cities of Mbabane and Manzini. The group
reported another 20 girls were seriously injured.

The annual dance sees young women and girls perform for the king in a
ceremony that sometimes ends with the polygamous monarch taking a new
wife. Thousands of performers are expected at the event on Monday.
King Mswati III, 47, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has between 13
and 15 wives, according to different reports.

Further details on the accident were difficult to obtain because of
censorship in the country’s media of news the royal house finds
objectionable. Independent media like the Times of Swaziland only
reported seven deaths while state media reported a highway covered in
blood but did not give concrete casualty figures.

During the Umhlanga dance, women and girls ranging in age from 8 to
22 will dance bare-chested in traditional costumes to impress the
king.

The women and girls in the accident had apparently gone into the
countryside to cut reeds, which is traditional before the event. The
reeds are used to protect the palace from winds.