Young Women in Contemporary Zulu Society

by Sandra Klopper
University of Cape Town

Young Zulu women participating in the Reed Ceremony, South Africa. Photo by Sandra Klopper. 

Rituals involving young women involved the Reed Ceremony, celebrations for the Heavenly Princess, Nomkhubulwana, and the coming-of-age ceremonies (umemula or ukwemula) organised by the parents of prospective brides. In contrast to the latter ceremonies, the Reed Ceremony, which is held annually at Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini's Enkoyeni royal residence, situated between Nongoma and Ulundi in present-day KwaZulu-Natal, was first introduced in 1984. At that time, the Zulu royal house and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the then chief minister of KwaZulu, were anxious to retain the support of Zulu-speaking traditionalists, many of whom were beginning to respond positively to the rhetoric of the United Democratic Front (UDF). The UDF was founded in 1983 with the intention of mobilizing opposition to South Africa's racist white government throughout the country's various provinces and the so-called independent black "homelands" it had formed during the 1960s and 1970s. The Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which revived and invented a number of rituals aimed at securing the loyalty of its ethnic constituency in the course of the 1980s, remained at loggerheads with the UDF, until the latter organization was disbanded following the release from prison of South African present leader, Nelson Mandela, in 1990.