virginsThirty-eight girls and a young women were killed as they travelled to the traditional festival where the King of Swaziland is known to pick a new bride from thousands of topless, dancing virgins.
At least 38 died when the open-topped truck collided with another vehicle, before being hit by a second truck as it travelled along a motorway between the Swazi cities of Mbabane and Manzini at the weekend.
The girls were all taking part in the Swazi Reed Dance Festival, an annual event which sees tens of thousands of unmarried girls – or ‘maidens’ – perform for King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The Sherborne-educated king is known to pick his wives from the girls who perform for him at the traditional dance, a tribute to the queen mother.
Last year, he plucked a 19-year-old virgin from the dancing maidens, who became his 14th wife.
But the authorities in Swaziland are now being accused of trying to cover up the accident on Friday, with rights group The Swaziland Solidarity Network (SSN) claiming police attempted to discourage media reporting on the deaths.
Photographers were also prevented from taking pictures at the scene, said a Swazi journalist, who insisted on anonymity for security reasons.
However, the Times of Swaziland did report on the tragedy, describing scenes of chaos as parents began to arrive at the Raleigh Fitkin Memorial Hospital, in Manzini.
It said they were held outside the emergency room, where the bodies and about 20 survivors were being treated.
Survivor Siphelele Sigudla, 18, told the paper: ‘We were about 50 on board the first truck that smashed into the Toyota van.’
The SSN has now called on the royal family to reconsider going ahead with the festival, which sees about 40,000 participating in the eight-day ceremony.
The girls and young women sing and dance, often bare-breasted, as they bring reeds to reinforce the windbreak around the royal residence, a government website said.
‘We hope that the families of the deceased girls will hold the royal family accountable for the deaths of their children,’ the group said in a statement, as it alleged a similar incident had been covered up previously.
‘The least that the royal family can do at this moment is to cancel this year’s reed dance.’
But the King has already sent his condolences.
‘We all have heard about the dark cloud that has befallen the ‘imbali,’’ he said, 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 in Swaziland’s economic center Manzini, he promised that the affected families would be compensated.
He added that an investigation into the accident was underway.


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