President Jacob Zuma has sent his condolences to Swaziland following the deaths of up to a reported 65 Swazi virgins in an accident while travelling to the annual Reed Dance.
The accident, which occurred on the Mbabane-Manzini highway on Friday, involved three flat-bed trucks and a car. The virgins were being transported by truck to cut reeds for the Reed Dance ceremony.
The exact figure could not be confirmed, but it is believed dozens of girls are critically injured.
While Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe hasn't officially said a word regarding the tragedy that has befallen our neighbouring Southern African country, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa said he has been saddened by the sad incident.
"On behalf of the government and people of the Republic of South Africa, His Excellency President Jacob Zuma has conveyed a message of condolences to His Majesty King Mswati III, the government and people of the Kingdom of Swaziland, following the accident on the Mbabane-Manzini highway in Swaziland today."
The accident happened on Friday night when their open truck smashed into a car on the road between the tiny kingdom's two main cities, Mbabane and Manzini, en route to the traditional Reed Dance, activists said.
A newspaper in Swaziland is reporting that one of the drivers involved in the crash has been arrested. The Times of Swaziland reported yesterday that the man appeared in court on Saturday and was charged with negligent driving. He remains in police custody. The newspaper said the 46-year-old man is a driver employed by the Swazi government.
The girls and young women were killed while on their way to join thousands of others at Swaziland's most famous traditional festival, the annual Reed Dance.
A rights group, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, claims that the death toll has risen to 65.
Swazi police dispute this, saying that only 13 people died. "A total of 38 young girls have been pronounced dead, with more than 20 others seriously injured," said Lucky Lukhele, a spokesperson for the Swaziland Solidarity Network.
The Reed Dance, due to be held today, is a beauty pageant that attracts tens of thousands of young virgins who dance before the polygamist king, who can select one of them as a new wife.
Mswati, Africa's last absolute monarch, chose his 14th wife at the celebration in 2013.
Mswati said the girls' deaths were a "tragedy in the nation". Police confirmed there had been "fatalities", but declined to specify the toll. Local media gave varying tolls on Saturday morning.
News of the accident has not been broadcast on public television and journalists were blocked from photographing the crash scene. Mswati III has ruled Swaziland as an absolute monarch since his father's death in 1982.