By Romeo Zwide, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
KwaZulu-Natal is one of nine provinces that form South Africa and according to the recently released 2011 census, the Zulu people are the majority in the province- this is why it is called KwaZulu. It is the land of the Zulus.
KwaZulu-Natal has been leading other provinces in South Africa when it comes to the number of people diagnosed HIV positive. This caused sleepless nights for the provincial government, traditional and church leaders.
In 1995 the provincial government’s Department of Health, led by Dr Zweli Mkhize, embarked on an awareness campaign encouraging people to test for HIV. It was not an easy task as the disease is linked to sex and Zulu people in particular do not talk openly about such a subject. To them being infected by this virus meant that one is involved in an immoral lifestyle. Since people were dying in numbers, the Zulus eventually realised that this disease is here to stay and began to come forward and get tested.
Zulu Reed Festival
It is believed that the king of the Zulus, King Goodwill Zwelithini, a descendant of King Shaka Zulu, played a significant role in decreasing the number of young people infected by HIV/Aids, by re-introducing the Zulu Reed Festival, more than twenty years ago.
This event is held once a year in September at one of the King’s palaces, KwaNongoma. This year’s event was attended by more than 40,000 maidens from all over the country. The event is a gathering of all virgin maidens of the Zulu nation (it is not compulsory to attend). Here, awareness is created about the disease and advice is given to these young girls on the danger of HIV/Aids. The King also invites various health institutions to talk to participants about HIV/Aids and teenage pregnancy.
The festival sees the maidens, who wear traditional attire designed for virgins, display their virginity after getting tested and approved by senior ladies. All those who have undergone virginity tests are then issued with certificates confirming they are virgins. Such virginity tests are why some have a controversial view of the festival.
Maidens spend the weekend at King’s palace, singing, playing and attending workshops. They arrive on Friday, and early in the morning on Saturday they collect reed and bring it to the King. This process is led by King’s daughters, who are also virgins. This precession is said to display their beauty and virginity to the nation.
The event is now even attracting non-Zulu maidens. This festival used to attract just rural maidens, but now more urban maidens are participating and they now come from all over the country.
Besides the fact it assists in bringing down the rate of young people infected with HIV/Aids, the event has also become a tourist attraction with over 25,000 visiting from across the globe, thereby contributing to the economy of the country.
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