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Swaziland crash death toll climbs to 65; Gov’t still mum

Authorities in Swaziland -- one of world’s last remaining absolute monarchies -- appear to be downplaying scope of accident

29.08.2015
Swaziland crash death toll climbs to 65; Gov’t still mum

JOHANNESBURG

The death toll from Swaziland’s massive road pile-up, which killed dozens of young girls traveling to an annual dance ceremony on Friday, has risen to 65, a local rights group confirmed Sunday, amid reports that the local authorities have downplayed the scope of the accident.  

“The number has now risen from 38 to 65 people who have died as a result of the accident,” Lucky Lukhele of the Swaziland Solidarity Network told Anadolu Agency on Sunday.

He said 38 girls had been killed instantly on Friday when the trucks they were travelling in collided with another vehicle.

“And on midnight Saturday, we received information that another 27 girls had died in hospital,” Lukhele added.   

The accident is reported to have happened when one of the open trucks transporting the girls crashed into the back of a van. It was then struck in the rear by another truck, causing a massive pile-up.

- Media suppression

Obtaining information from the Swazi authorities is typically difficult, as government officials are slow to provide the media with material.

Lukhele said the initial plan of the Swaziland government was to silence local media and downplay the scale of the accident.

“But the incident was reported by the South African media,” he said.

Media freedoms and other liberties are wanting in Swaziland -- one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies.

Journalists in the kingdom often complain of harassment if they criticize the king or portray the country in a negative light. 

King Mswati III has ruled the impoverished southern African kingdom since 1986, when he took over from his father who had ruled for six decades.

Rights groups also complain that there are no free and fair parliamentary polls in the kingdom.

Some opposition politicians and activists have fled Swaziland to neighboring South Africa for fear of reprisal or persecution.

The Swaziland Solidarity Network is now appealing to King Mswati III to cancel Monday’s traditional reed dance -- in which the ill-fated girls had planned to take part -- and instead make the occasion a day of national mourning.

“In African culture, we don’t celebrate and dance when others are mourning,” Lukhele said. “So we’re calling on the king to cancel the event.”

Reed dance

Every year, tens of thousands of young Swazi girls travel from various parts of the kingdom to the royal village to participate in the eight-day reed dance ceremony.

As part of the ceremony, young girls dance semi-naked for the king -- their breasts exposed -- while each carries a long reed.

During the event, the king may choose a new bride -- in addition to the more than one dozen wives he already has.

As of Sunday, the Swaziland government had not yet released an official death toll from Friday’s road calamity.   

South African president Jacob Zuma, for his part, has extended his condolences to the people and government of Swaziland.

“The South African government sends its deepest sympathy and condolences to the government and people of the Kingdom of Swaziland following the tragic loss of young lives,” Zuma said in a statement.

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