Thousands of young women were Monday preparing to sing and dance in front of Swaziland’s King Mswati III to honour Africa’s last absolute monarchy.
The annual ceremony is known as Umhlanga or “reed dance”, because the dancers carry reeds used in building the fence around the royal compound.
Around 8 000 dancers aged between 8 and 22 years took part in a rehearsal on Sunday, but organisers said as many as 40 000 women and girls could participate.
The 47-year-old king, who already has 14 wives, has the option of choosing one of the dancers as a new spouse.
More than 60 dancers were killed in a road accident on their way to the ceremony on Friday, but the authorities ignored calls to cancel the event.
The dance, which aims at promoting a traditional education for girls and virginity before marriage, has come under criticism from feminists because of the dancers’ scanty clothing.
Mswati III has also been accused of maintaining an inappropriately lavish lifestyle in the country where 63% of the population of 1.4 million lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
But the Umhlanga dance remains very popular as the main cultural event in the country located between South Africa and Mozambique.