Durban – In a quest to send a very strong message against homophobia and cultural exclusion on the basis of sexual orientation, a resolution has been passed by the South African national assembly allowing gay people to participate in the annual Zulu reed dance.
This controversial move, which is bound to make Shaka Zulu turn in his grave, has been surprisingly welcomed by “reformed homophobe” King Goodwill Zwelithini as his way of extending an olive branch to the gay community at large.
“A lot of uneducated opinions where expressed on what makes a person istabane (gay)… But seeing that there is no concrete evidence on what makes a person straight either, the monarchy has concluded that both sexual orientations are unexplainable acts of nature,” the honorable Zwelithini told reporters.
King Goodwill Zwelithini added that this decision was very important in ensuring abstinence until marriage, ultimately capping the alarming rate of HIV infections within the gay community.
Although the Zulu king is still unclear on how virginity testing will be conducted on gay men, he assumes it will be done “from the back”.
South Africa, which boasts one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, passed a law allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in 2006. South Africa is the fifth country, the first (and only) in Africa, the first in the southern hemisphere, and the second outside Europe to legalise same-sex marriage.
Iko Mash, a celebrity drag queen and makeup artist, said s/he will be participating in the reed dance.
“Although I shave my manly face everyday and have very strong jaw-lines, big feet, and need to “tuck-it-in” most of the time – I look in the mirror and see a beautiful black woman. In fact, I’m often confused for a Nigerian woman, especially in Lagos,” joked Iko Mash.
“I have been saving myself for the right man and many believe I’m lying like Kelly Khumalo. Going for virginity testing will prove that, and hopefully the right guy will come my way,” Iko added.
Iko Mash says s/he hopes that Swaziland will follow suit in allowing drag queens to participate in the reed dance. This, s/he added, will bring her closer to realising her ultimate dream of being a real queen.
Should Swaziland allow this highly unlikely dream, Iko is adamant that s/he will be amongst thousands of “women” picked by King Mswati for a hand in marriage, and the two will live happily ever after in their Lozitha royal palace in Mbabane, Swaziland.
In South Africa, the ceremony Umkhosi woMhlanga takes place every year in September, at the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma, KwaZulu Natal. The girls come from all parts of Zululand, and in recent years there are also smaller groups from Swaziland, as well as more distant places such as Botswana and Pondoland.
All girls are required to undergo a virginity test before they are allowed to participate in a royal dance, though in recent years the testing practice has been met with some opposition.
The girls wear traditional attire, including beadwork, and ‘izigege’ and ‘izinculuba’ that show their bottoms. They also wear anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and colourful sashes. Each sash has appendages of a different colour, which denote whether or not the girl is betrothed.
As part of the ceremony, the young women dance bare-breasted for their king, and each carries a long reed, which is then deposited as they approach the king. The girls take care to choose only the longest and strongest reeds, and then carry them towering above their heads in a slow procession, up the hill to the palace.
The procession is led by the chief Zulu princess, who takes a prominent role throughout the festival. If the reed should break before the girl reaches that point, it is considered to signal that the girl has already been sexually active.
The ceremony was reintroduced by King Goodwill Zwelethiniin 1991, as a means to encourage young Zulu girls to delay sexual activity until marriage, and thus limiting the possibility of HIV transmission. In 2007, about 30,000 girls took part in the event.
The organisers of the ceremony have occasionally enforced strict rules on photographers, as some of them have been accused of publishing the pictures on pornographic websites.
In past years, the event was attended by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and then Premier of KwaZulu Natal, Zweli Mkhize.
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