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Women and girls killed in crash at Swaziland festival where king chooses a new wife

Up to 40,000 young women dance before the king during the Reed

The crumpled truck at the scene of the crash.
The crumpled truck at the scene of the crash.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

AT LEAST 38 girls and young women were killed in a crash while travelling to Swaziland’s most famous traditional festival.

About 20 others were injured when the truck they were in collided with another vehicle on Friday, the Swaziland Solidarity Network said in a statement.

The young women and girls were travelling on the back of an open truck, the rights group said.

The girls and young women were on their way to the Swazi king’s royal residence for the annual reed dance.

About 40,000 young women participate in the eight-day Reed Dance ceremony in which they sing and dance, usually bare-breasted, before the polygamist king, who can select one of them as a new wife.

Mswati, Africa’s last absolute monarch, chose his 14th wife at the celebration in 2013.

“We all have heard about the dark cloud that has befallen the ‘imbali,’” said King Mswati III, using the Swati language word for flower, used to refer to the groups of women dancers.

Speaking at the opening of an international trade fair today, the king promised that the affected families would be compensated. He added that an investigation into the accident was underway.

SWAZILAND CRASH Swaziland is a tiny landlocked country north of South Africa. Source: AP

Police in Swaziland, a small mountainous country of 1.4 million people bordering northeastern South Africa and Mozambique, discouraged reporting on the accident, said the rights group.

Press photographers were prevented from taking pictures at the scene, said a Swazi journalist who insisted on anonymity for security reasons. However some people managed to take photographs of the aftermath of the crash with their cell phones.

A high-ranking police officer refused to comment on the accident, saying the matter was related to the “highest authority,” and no details could be disclosed to the media.

Police confirmed there had been “fatalities” but declined to specify the toll, with police spokesman Khulekani Mamba saying:

“We won’t be giving out any information because the maidens were on royal duty, so there are certain protocols to be followed before such information can be divulged to the public.”

The females were travelling on a highway between the Swazi cities of Mbabane and Manzini, when the truck carrying them smashed into a vehicle and was then hit in the rear by a second truck, the Times of Swaziland reported.

“We were about 50 on board the first truck that smashed into the Toyota van,” said Siphelele Sigudla, 18, a survivor quoted by the Times of Swaziland.

Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy, ruled by King Mswati since 1986. The country has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2015

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