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MBABANE – For the very first time in history, the 2020 Umhlanga Reed Dance ceremony will not take place.

This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has affected the country and the world at large.

Umhlanga is among the most important cultural events held annually in the kingdom and has grown to attract tourists from all over the world. 

The main reed dance is normally held around August or early September and is attended by over 100 000 maidens who are unmarried and childless. 

These maidens travel from various chiefdoms to the Ludzidzini Royal Residence to participate in the seven-day ceremony. On day one, the maidens register upon arrival at Ludzidzini Royal Residence. 


The following day, His Majesty King Mswati III commissions them to cut the reed at Bhamsakhe and Mpisi farms, depending on their ages. 

The older girls cut the reed at Bhamsakhe, while the younger ones cut it at Mpisi Farm. On the third day, the maidens head to the swamps to cut the reed, while on day four, they march back to Ludzidzini Royal Residence.  

Day five marks a relaxation and rest period for the maidens at their respective camps within Lobamba. On day six, the maidens deliver the reed at Ludzidzini Royal Residence and dance before Their Majesties. On day seven, the maidens showcase their chastity before Their Majesties at the Ludzidzini stadium and then return to their respective homes on the next day.

Imbali Indvuna Nonduduzo Zubuko delivered the royal command yesterday at Ludzidzini Royal Residence. Zubuko said His Majesty King Mswati III was expecting the arrival of the maidens on August 25, 2020 and the main dance was to be held on August 31, 2020.

She said due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event had been cancelled at Ludzidzini and Shiselweni Royal residences. 

According to Zubuko, alternative ways to ensure that the reed was finally delivered to royal residences would be considered.


Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs Princess Lindiwe also announced that the issue of the Umhlanga holiday was yet to be deliberated upon and the nation would be informed in due course.

 The minister further urged the maidens to follow all the COVID-19 precautionary measures while at home and be safe at all times. She commended His Majesty for the decision to call off the event and place the safety of his nation first.

Imbali Overseer Hlangabeza Mdluli said the reed dance was a way of life for emaSwati that began long ago where over 100 maidens danced above the cattle byre. Mdluli said the numbers slowly grew and the maidens shifted to dance below the cattle byre. However, he said due to the growing numbers exceeding thousands, a mini stadium was built at Ludzidzini where the ceremony now took place. 

“The stadium itself is becoming small and cannot accommodate the growing number of maidens,” said the imbali overseer. He said by virtue of the event not taking place, it definitely had a bearing on tradition, hence they would ensure that they would try by all means to bring the reed to the royal residences (Ludzidzini and Mbangweni).

Mdluli said the reed dance usually gathered nations and the country had been greatly affected.

Senior Prince Masitsela said unlike the Incwala ceremony, the reed dance was less significant in the country’s traditions.

The prince said umhlanga was bound not to take place under the current situation, adding that His Majesty cancelled his own birthday and the Easter services, hence the reed dance was nothing (bigger than that). 

He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health discouraged mass gatherings.

According to the prince, the reed dance brought people together and there was no way that it could take place under this situation of COVID-19. 

Health Promotional Officer at WHO local office, Dr Kevin Makadzange commended the move, stating that Their Majesties made a good decision.  


Dr Makadzange said, with the reed dance taking place at a time where there was a transmission happening, it was expected of the country to put off the event. 

He said there was no way that Eswatini could host a mass gathering in the midst of the transmission. 

“We are living in the ‘new normal’ following the COVID-19 pandemic and have to compromise some of the old things we used to do,” said Dr Makadzange.

He stated that the COVID-19 regulations were still in effect and mass gatherings were banned all over the world.  

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