One of Swaziland’s most senior traditionalists Ntfonjeni Dlamini, who once made international news for whipping virgins, has died.
The Times Sunday newspaper in Swaziland said he reportedly died of tuberculosis, aged 65, but cast doubts on whether this was true by stating, ‘It was not immediately clear how he could have died of TB, as it is a curable disease.’
Ntfonjeni Dlamini was the overseer of the Imbali maiden’s regiment. This is the group of young women, supposedly virgins, who parade semi naked before King Mswati III at the kingdom’s annual Reed Dance.
Ntfonjeni is survived by three wives and 34 children with the youngest aged eight.
His family described him as a disciplinarian. ‘He would beat us each time we strayed. He never hesitated to discipline us, no matter our age,’ one of his son’s, Lusaseni, told the newspaper.
The Times Sunday reported that Ntfonjeni Dlamini’s reign as overseer of the Imbali maidens’ regiment was characterised by controversy.
‘He was known for being a strict disciplinarian but the kingdom’s authorities retained him,’ the newspaper reported.
‘His reputation attracted a lot of criticism both locally and internationally when he hit [King Mswati’s eldest daughter] Princess Sikhanyiso, the leader of Imbali maidens after he stumbled across her at a party, hosted by the then 17-year-old that featured loud music during the Reed Dance activities in 2005.’
It added, ‘Unimpressed with what he saw, Ntfonjeni whipped the princess with a stick as she fled.’
It went on, ‘His act was widely criticised and condemned by both local and international children’s rights organisations.
‘Dr Allen Brody, then Country Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was among those who condemned it and said it was child abuse.
The newspaper reported, ‘However, his act was lauded by traditionalists such as Prince Jahamnyama who said Princess Sikhanyiso received what she had bargained for by turning such an important event (the Reed Dance) into a social gathering.
‘As he lived up to his reputation of being a disciplinarian in the ensuing years, on September 3, 2007 he assaulted a group of maidens with a stick resulting in two of them being rushed to the Lobamba Clinic.
‘The girls were Nokulunga Mamba and Calisile Tfwala of Mzimnene.
‘They could not dance before Their Majesties as they were seriously injured after the beating.
‘Mamba and Tfwala were not the only maidens who were beaten as four others were also involved but were lucky not to sustain serious injuries,’ the newspaper reported.
Swazi Media Commentary (SMC) reported on Ntfonjeni Dlamini and the Reed Dance whipping controversy in 2007. Not only were women whipped but men also.
The traditional authorities who were given the responsibility of supervising the ‘maidens’ systematically detained and whipped at least 27 young men who were caught at night trying to get close to the young women.
The whippings were not isolated incidents, taking place over at least two days. ‘So we must assume that the detention and whipping of unwelcome visitors was an agreed method of discipline among those tasked with supervising the maidens,’ SMC reported.
Muzi Dlamini, one of the men responsible for supervising the maidens, said at the time that the men were taken to a small tent. ‘They were beaten with sjamboks and sticks. We were disciplining them and I must say they deserved such a punishment.’
In September 2007, the Times of Swaziland, a companion paper of the Times Sunday, reported that Ntfonjeni Dlamini, assaulted a group of maidens with a stick. He hurt two of them so badly, the Times reported, that they had to go to Lobamba Clinic, where one of them was treated for injuries to her right leg and bruises all over her body. The other was reported to have bruises all over her body and was bleeding on her back.
The Times reported four other ‘maidens’ were also thrashed, but were not as badly injured.
The Times later said that the two women had reported Ntfonjeni Dlamini to the police.
In an editorial comment, the Times said, ‘Ntfonjeni Dlamini … seems to believe he holds the right to beat up anybody’s child for no apparent reason.’ It called on ‘traditional authorities’ to take strong action against the blemishing of the Reed Dance, which it described as a ‘colourful event’ and an opportunity for Swaziland to make a bit of money from tourists.
The Times also gave an account of eight stabbings in isolated incidents at the Reed Dance. The newspaper reported that those stabbed were involved in brawls over ‘girls’.
Swazi Media Commentary at the time commented, ‘There are two themes that emerge from these stories that deserve further consideration from the Swazi media.
‘The first is the role of those in “traditional” authority and the way they are allowed to ignore the law. The Times in its editorial comment cast doubt on whether anything would be done about Ntfonjeni Dlamini and we might assume this is because in Swaziland the ruling elite relies on the upholding of Swazi traditions for their power.
‘A legal system that places a person’s human rights at its centre would not tolerate “Swazi custom” for one moment.
‘The second is the general attitude of Swazi society to its women. Many see the annual Reed Dance as an event that cements Swazi culture, but others with a more modern outlook, believe it to be outdated and some say the Reed Dance, is old fashioned and makes a mockery of women, as it has become little more than a showcase for the king to choose a new bride.’
REED DANCE – DARK SWAZI CULTURE