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Culture and Environment

If Swaziland were a ship, culture would be her anchors.

Even though change and modernisation have permeated into society, strong cultural values remain unchanged in the Swazi people. So important is culture to Swaziland, that there are holidays reserved for cultural events. One such event is the Umhlanga Reed Dance.

This particular day generally involves a large number of girls marching for miles to harvest reed which is used to build beautiful huts at the royal residences. The large number which may be up to 80 000 maidens gives one an idea of the amount of reed collected. The environmental impact of this activity has not yet been measured and recorded, however one must be cognisant of the fact that reed grows near rivers and in wetlands. These types of land are a habitat, if you have 80 000 maidens trampling on this habitat without due regard for the impact that such disturbance of that environment. The reeds themselves are of use to birds which prime nests on these plants, they also support a snail population.

This then brings up the problem of competing interests. The reality of it all is that this cultural event is not about to be brought to a grinding halt, especially not “to save the birds and the snails”. Thus it is for the government and all environment stakeholders to engage in research and fact finding initiatives geared at arriving at a true impact assessment, and coming up with mitigation measures. Information and resource sharing in this regard would be invaluable, as it would bring about a well informed solution. The desired result being that the environment is adequately protected, while the integrity of the cultural event is not compromised.

It is submitted that this matter should not be politicised if a speedy solution is to be achieved. An issue such as the one in question could easily be manipulated and distorted to convey a message other than the one intended. This article in no way suggests that the cultural event is bad for the environment. Its statement is that there must be a way in which the two can coexist.

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