65 Swaziland girls tragically die in truck crash en route to royal festival – report

© Siphiwe Sibeko
The death toll from a massive truck crash in Swaziland on Friday, which claimed the lives of girls and young women traveling to an annual dance festival, where one was to be picked as the king’s newest bride, has risen to 65, Swaziland Solidarity Network reported.

The passengers were traveling in an open truck to cut reeds for the Umhlanga Reed Dance, an annual festival where the Swazi king traditionally chooses one of the participants as his newest bride.

“We can now confirm that 65 young girls have perished on that accident even those that we admitted which earlier on were reported critically injured. We want to extend our deepest [condolences] to their families,” the report said.

Graphic images taken at the scene show the bloody bodies of young women on the back of a truck. 

It had previously been reported that 38 people were killed in a crash, and 20 others were said to be critically injured. 

The Swazi government has not yet confirmed the exact number of deaths and injuries from the crash. 

According to news reports, the truck smashed into the back of a van and was then struck by another truck while on a road between the Swazi cities of Mbabane and Manzini.

Police were discouraged from reporting on the incident and photographers were not allowed to take pictures of the crash, AP quoted local journalist as saying. Some, however, were able to take pictures with their cellphones.

Swaziland is a mountainous country with a population of 1.4 million people located in southern Africa.

The Reed Dance festival is held annually and celebrates the Queen Mother in Swaziland. It gathers about 40,000 single girls and women at the Royal Village, who sing and dance for eight days. During the ceremony, King Mswati chooses a new wife from among the women attending. Swaziland is a polygamous country and the king has over a dozen wives.

Some human rights groups have criticized the event as sexist and outdated, as it involves women dancing semi-naked in front of the royal residence. 

“We all have heard about the dark cloud that has befallen the ‘imbali,’” said King Mswati III, referring to the groups of women dancers. The king also said that the victims’ families will be offered compensation, and that an investigation is underway.