August 30, 2015 / 4:23 PM / 2 years ago

Swazi police confirm 13 die in crash en route to royal ceremony

Swaziland's King Mswati III (C) arrives with his regiment for the annual Reed Dance at Ludzidzini in Swaziland August 28, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Swaziland’s police have confirmed that 11 young women and two men died in a road accident at the weekend on their way to an annual ceremony where the king might have chosen one of the women as his wife.

Four trucks transporting scores of young women to the traditional Umhlanga Reed Dance collided on Friday near the town of Matsapha on Swaziland’s major highway, police spokesperson Inspector Phindile Vilakati told Reuters.

An advocacy group based in neighboring South Africa, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, on Saturday put the death toll at 38.

Eighty-one people were admitted to hospital, but most have since been discharged, Vilakati said.

The Umhlanga Reed Dance has in the past involved bare-breasted young Swazi women dancing and singing in beaded mini-skirts to catch the eye of King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.

The main dance, meant to celebrate womanhood and virginity, is due to start on Monday.

Thousands of young women descend on the royal residence from all over the nation every year, but in a country where relatively few families own vehicles and where infrastructure is poor, many are squeezed onto open trucks.

Reporting by TJ Strydom; Editing by Alison Williams

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