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Page last updated at 15:06 GMT, Thursday, 25 September 2008 16:06 UK

Reed dance is 'sexist, outdated'

Virgins dance with reeds wearing traditional dress in Swaziland
Thousands of traditionally dressed virgins dance with reeds for the king

The traditional Zulu reed dance is sexist and outdated, South Africa's Young Communist League (YCL) says.

YCL spokesman Castro Ngobese said the cultural practice in honour of the Zulu King Shaka makes women "chained prisoners of backwards traditions".

But traditionalists say the annual ceremony gives dignity to participants.

The YCL dedicated this year's Heritage Day events to a young girl who was raped during last weekend's reed dance celebrations in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

The South African press reported on Tuesday that a 14-year-old Zulu maiden who had been participating in the ceremony at King Goodwill Zwelithini's palace over the weekend was dragged outside and gang-raped.

'Extremely biased'

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Young women and girls should not be chained prisoners of backwards traditions
YCL Castro Ngobese

Mr Ngobese called on all young people to mark 2008's Heritage Day in protest against the reed dance practice saying that young girls were being unconsciously coerced to expose or display their genitals under the pretext of promoting outdated cultures.

Arguing it was sexist, he explained: "It is extremely biased against the female child, whereas male children and teenagers are not subjected to such practices."

The ruling African National Congress president Jacob Zuma, who attended the Zulu celebrations, commended King Zwelithini for reviving the culture which he sees as part of nation building.

But Mr Zuma also said that young boys should also participate in the reed dance.

Jacob Zuma in traditional Zulu dress
Heritage Day is celebrated in memory of the Zulu's warrior-king, Shaka

The origins of the reed dance tradition - known as umhlanga - are based on preparing girls and young women for maturity, sex and marriage.

The Zulu reed dance, which takes place every year in early September, is very similar to the event that takes part in the neighbouring kingdom of Swaziland. The Swazi reed dance is usually held in August.

The Swazi and the Zulu both come from the northern Nguni group of people.


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