Reed Dance ends in fatality

THE scramble for promotional caps dished out by sponsors at the end of the annual Royal Reed Dance in KwaNongoma resulted in a stampede that left one virgin girl dead on Saturday.

The stampede broke out when one of the ceremony sponsors handed out caps to maidens that were leaving King Goodwill Zwelithini's Enyonkeni Palace.

Sponsors hand out promotional material, including caps and T-shirts, every year at the event.

But this time it sparked pandemonium, leaving one maiden dead and scores injured.

Thousands of maidens used the main entrance to the palace to lay reeds and proceeded to the exit gate when a vehicle carrying promotional caps pulled up outside the palace.

Disorder erupted when the maidens pushed each other to grab the caps and T-shirts on offer after a long day in the scorching heat.

Marshals deployed to help with crowd control could not cope with the rowdy crowd of maidens.

In the ensuing scramble the sponsors were forced to throw the caps at the maidens, which resulted in their trampling each other.

One unnamed maiden died on the scene while another was rushed to hospital in a critical condition. Ten more were seriously injured as the event turned into chaos.

The drama continued in the palace since some maidens were also injured and dehydrated from walking more than two kilometres to lay the reeds before the king.

Others fainted because of the intense heat and not enough water to cool themselves down after the long walk to the palace.

Kwazulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize had to put aside his official cap and show his medical prowess as he attended some of the maidens.

Mkhize was soon joined by royal family members, local government and traditional affairs MEC Nomusa Dube, arts and culture MEC Weziwe Thusi and government officials in a frantic effort to help.

Paramedics could not reach the scene in time since more than 20000 maidens continued the walk carrying reeds to the palace.

Some maidens ended up leaving the reeds a few metres from the venue because of overcrowding before entering the palace.

Meanwhile, concerned parents rushed to St Benedictine Hospital after reports that a number of maidens were hurt in the stampede.

Arts and culture spokesperson Vukani Mbhele said a full report on the dead woman and her identity was not immediately available.

Mbhele said the department would investigate the cause of the incident and would release details in due course.

But staffers at the hospital told Sowetan that some parents spent the night in the hospital checking whether their children had been admitted.