JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The death toll from a road accident taking young women and girls to Swaziland's annual Reed Dance festival is 13, according to a government statement on Monday.
Ten girls and women, aged between 11 and 19, were killed last Friday, when a truck transporting dozens of dancers to the annual festival collided with two other vehicles, the statement said. Three men were also killed in the crash, according to the statement which listed the age and home district of each victim. Swazi police at first refused to give any information on the accident.
"Government is in touch with the parents and relatives of the deceased and all of them have been positively identified," the statement said, adding that five more "maidens" were still in hospital.
A rights group, the Swaziland Solidarity Network, accused the government of understating the fatalities. The group initially reported that 38 people died in the accident and later increased the death toll to 65.
"We are gone past wrestling with the regime on numbers," spokesman Lucky Lukhele told The Associated Press, adding that it was unacceptable that the government used open flatbed trucks to transport the dancers to the festival. "Even if it was one, one is too many."
The group called on the king to halt the festivities and hold a prayer session to mourn those who died in the crash. The Reed Dance, Swaziland's largest cultural festival, ended Monday after eight days.
Wearing beaded skirts, colorful cloth wraps and thick woolen tassels, the young women and girls are usually bare-breasted. About 40,000 sing and dance, bringing reeds sometimes twice their height to reinforce the windbreak around the royal residence.
King Mswati III, who has more than a dozen wives, sometimes chooses a new bride from among the dancers.