A pile of thousands of woollen tassels symbolising chastity has been set on fire in Swaziland to mark the end of a sex ban imposed by King Mswati III.
The end of the sex ban was greeted with mixed feelings
The secret ceremony took place at the crack of dawn. Men were banned.
After the tassels were burnt, some 30,000 Swazi girls danced in the national stadium in front of the king, before feasting on slaughtered cattle.
The ban was started by the king in 2001 to fight the spread of HIV/Aids. Some 40% of Swazi citizens are HIV positive.
However, the ban was ended a year early amid strong criticism. No official reason was given.
Just two months after imposing the ban, the king fined himself a cow for breaking the ban by taking a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife, sparking unprecedented protests by Swazi women outside the royal palace.
As they danced, there were mixed feelings about the tassels.
"We are so happy that King Mswati ordered us to take off the woollen tassels," said 18-year-old Nombulelo Dlamini. "They were no use because some girls fell pregnant while wearing the same tassels."
She said she had hid hers "because a lot of boys were making fun of us whenever we were spotted wearing them."
But Bongiwe Nkampule, 16, said she would feel "vulnerable" without them.
"Wearing the tassels was good for us young girls because men were scared to touch and abuse us," she said.
As they arrived at the Queen Mother's palace on Monday, before taking off their tassels, they sang in jest: "At last, we can now have sex."
King Mswati is due to choose a new bride next week
King Mswati has warned young Swazis that although the ban has ended, they should still not sleep around.
New figures released by the health ministry last week show that 29% of Swazi citizens aged 15-19 are HIV positive.
For pregnant women, the figures are 42%: the highest infection rate in the world.
The BBC's Thulani Mthethwa in Swaziland says the ban was very unpopular with young Swazis.
He says that few girls in urban areas wore the tassels.
If propositioned by a man, the girls were supposed to throw the tassels outside his house and his family would have to pay a fine of a cow.
But many Swazis were unhappy that King Mswati's daughters were rarely seen wearing the tassels.
Our correspondent says that in rural areas, the tassels were common because the ban was enforced by local chiefs and some schools insisted that girls wore them to get a place.
The ban ends a day before the start of the annual reed ceremony.
This culminates next Monday, with a reed dance at which the king is set to choose his next bride.
King Mswati now has 12 wives and a fiancee.
His late father, King Sobhuza II, who led the country to independence in 1968, had more than 70 wives when he died in 1982.
What do you think about this story? Is a sex ban the way to combat Aids? If you are in Swaziland, what was your experience?
A selection of your comments will be broadcast on the BBC's Focus on Africa programme on Saturday, 27 August, starting at 1705 GMT.
How sad. Tassels or Chastity belts? If folks, 30, 000 of them, can assemble and swallow this oudated doctrine then surely we should also be allowed to assemble them and conduct HIV tests and for those who are HIV+ put them on treatment. This way it will have positve outcome in combatting the spread of HIV.
Thabo Moeti, Johannesburg
The sex ban is basically a symbolic action against HIV,afterall the existence of laws have never stopped the activities of criminals.As far as am concern the sex ban serves no pratical or useful purposes.
damilola olori, abuja nigeria
I thought they said we should lead by example, how could the king be displaying his libido, while he expects his subjects to be sex-fasting.
Lekan Obisanya, Lagos, Nigeria
It's very sad to hear a story like this one. What does the words "marriage" and "commitment" means to us in Africa? I think being somebody's sex slave is different than marry to that individual. How the hell can you remember the names of 70 wives without getting confused? Is that a true love? or just to satisfy a desire? HIV is spreading and killing us like an epidemic. To all my sisters, and mothers, stand up for yourselves...
Koudjo EGUIDA, Los Angeles, California USA
To some extend it does help but I would suggest the King passes a law whereby all young Swazis to have an HIV test. Only HIV negative to marry and those HIV postive should not be allowed ot marry and even engaged in sex.
David Glama, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Hail King Mswati! The sex ban was quite thoughtful!! But dont you think by sending all these girls for education and raising awareness on AIDS/HIV would be more realistic? What about your expanding family of 11 wives including a 17 year old girl who should be in school? Charity begins at home His Highness!
Glory Kinyua, Dubai- UAE
sex ban is not at all the way to combat aids.The best and safest way of combating AIDS is moral education on which an individual will be taking care of him/herself.
mroki wilifred msuya, lindi tanzania.
It is interesting to see sexual parasites like
king Mswati manipulating his subjects by preaching one thing and doing another. Such a man would never understand that a true civilization goes beyond sleeping arround with
more than one woman. He is indeed, a sex king !
Clem OKONKWO, Scarborough,Ont. Canada
It is very important to consider the local traditional factor to fight monster like AIDS. Now, is the time to see the impact of the sex ban in the Swaziland context and AIDS control, though the ban was there for a short time. Did the physiological urge of copulation in young Swazis restrained by the royal decree, did it motivited the practice of safe sex out of compulsion. What was the situation of condom sale in that time period, what was the changes in other parameters that can be observed to assess the impact of the sex ban on AIDS control. If there is even a faintest hint of positive result, this practice can and should be included in tailor made strategies for AIDS control in suitable circumstances. Now, poverty ridden Swaziland should stress on education and conciousness, and who best to lead than the King himself who have such an influence. Now, your Majesty could the practice begin from your Palace itself.
Krishna Kaphle, Taipei
It is unimaginable to hear such a person rule and abuse people. I would have believed this if I were told it happened 100 years a go. I am sick of reading this animal taking 12 women as his wives. No wonder that AID is ravaging the people there. What are the chances he is not spreading it.
Dan, Washigton, DC
I think that in a country where as many as 29% of 15-19 year olds and 42% of pregnant women are HIV positive, a sex ban is a great start!
Minta, Fredericksburg, VA 22405
The AIDS epidemic is a horrific reality. I am at a loss to know what could possibly stem this terrible tide. However, there will never be hope for Africa if the leaders of African Nations continue to ignor and worse yet, deny the reality of AIDS. It is tragic that so many condemn their citizens to death because of ignorance, pride, indifference and superstition. As long as men continue to blame women, and believe that it can be cured by raping a baby Africa will continue to die at the hands of this pestilence.
Kathy Klok, Flossmoor USA
What a joke! 12 wives and a fiancee and HE has the temerity to impose a sex ban?
Dena, Sacramento, California
Sex ban is not the answer to resolving the AIDS pandemic but educating the population about "safe" sex. One of the ways to do this is the principle of one man one woman and the King has not demonstrated this at all.Can he satisfy all his wives?
Emmanuel Nenghabi, Lubbock, Texas USA
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