JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's annual Zulu Reed Dance ceremony was disrupted by hallucinating girls who swarmed the country's president, a Johannesburg newspaper reported on Monday.
Teenage girls dancing in the annual cultural festival heard voices and rushed toward the area where President Jacob Zuma and Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini were seated during the Saturday ceremony in KwaZulu-Natal province. The president's bodyguards escorted him away from the thousands of colorfully-clad dancers, The Star's front-page report said.
Zuma's spokesman, who was at the ceremony, said the newspaper reports were exaggerated.
"There was no danger to the president," Bongani Majola told The Associated Press, adding that Zuma attended the whole ceremony without further incident.
"There are some of you who came here with evil spirits to spoil this event," the Zulu king told the crowd once order was restored, according to the report.
Nomagugu Ngobese, president of a cultural group that trains the young women, heard reports that priests were summoned on Friday, after some dancers began wailing, apparently possessed.
This happened again during the main ceremony on Saturday. Dancers began to hallucinate and scream, causing panic among the crowd of thousands of young women, who scattered in different directions, said Ngobese, who attended the ceremony. They did not run toward the president, she added.
"Now that it has happened within the palace, it seems as if it's something new," said Ngobese, an academic and traditional healer who said spirit possession was common.
South Africa's Reed Dance is smaller than a similar event in Swaziland. In South Africa about 10,000 teenage girls participate, according to a government website. According to Zulu custom, only virgins are allowed to bring reeds to the royal homestead during the four-day ceremony.
Before the festivities, the teenagers are taught life skills and reproductive health, said Ngobese.