Nongoma - Thousands of maidens are busy with final preparations ahead of the KwaZulu-Natal Royal Reed Dance ceremony, which takes place this weekend.
Once a year in early September, invited maidens make their way to King Goodwill Zwelithini's royal residence at Nyokeni Palace in Nongoma, to perform a traditional dance for the Zulu King.
In its 25th year, the festival gets its name from the riverbed reeds, which are the central focus of this two-day event.
On the first day, each maiden carries a reed which has been cut from the riverbed, in a procession. Reeds reflect a deep mythical connection with the origin of the Zulu people. According to tradition, the original ancestor emerged from a reed bed.
"They then take the reed to His Majesty the King, to symbolise their purity. Thereafter, they gather at the nearby field where he delivers a speech," Vukani Mbhele, Media Manager for the provincial department of Arts and Culture, said.
According to Zulu tradition, only virgins are permitted to take part in the festival to ensure that they are ritually 'pure'.
The second day of the ceremony is marked by a colourful display of different dances by maidens from different villages around the province.
A dignified traditional ceremony, the reed dance festival is a vibrant occasion, which depicts the rich cultural heritage of the Kingdom of the Zulu and celebrates the proud origin of the Zulu people.
The founder of Nomkhululwane cultural organisation, Nomagugu Ngobese told BuaNews the reed dance was also a celebration of the Zulu nation and performs the essential role of unifying the nation.
The reed dance festival is a solemn occasion for the young women, but also an opportunity to show off their singing, dancing and beadwork, the fruits of many months of excitement and preparation.
"The women of KwaZulu-Natal make some of the finest beadwork in Africa, and the Reed Dance is an especially vibrant and colourful occasion on account of the rich beadwork on display," said the department.
A number of invited guest are expected to attend the festival, including the provincial MEC for Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation Weziwe Thusi.