Zuma was escorted from a soccer field where he was supposed to share the stage with King Goodwill Zwelithini in addressing the gathered maidens.
The guards feared for Zuma’s safety when the event turned chaotic, apparently as hysterical maidens visualised demons “attacking them”.
The situation interrupted the king’s speech as the women were crying uncontrollably. They were pushing each other towards an area where Zuma and the king were seated, which led to bodyguards rushing to the stage to whisk the president away.
Zuma later returned to his seat once the situation had calmed down but did not deliver his speech as expected because by then it was already late in the evening.
Visibly annoyed, the king said the women were possessed by evil spirits.
“There are some of you who came here with evil spirits to spoil this event,” he said.
It is understood that the maidens had started hallucinating on Friday. They were crying and rolling on the ground.
KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture spokesman Mluleki Mtungwa said a “handful” of women were seen crying.
He said some were admitted to the Benedictine Hospital in Nongoma while others were taken to the Osuthu Clinic, outside the palace.
He said more than 40 000 maidens who participated were among about 100 000 people who gathered at the palace during the cold and rainy weekend.
A source said religious leaders were called in to pray on Friday to chase away evil spirits. The prayers continued on Saturday as some of the young women were still agitated.
The king only delivered his speech at about 7pm, to an almost empty soccer field as the maidens had left to go to buses and tents to shelter from the wet and cold weather.
The king gave an order that the women should be forced back to the field to listen to him.
Nomagugu Ngobese, the president of the Nomkhubulwane Cultural Institution, which leads the virginity testing before the reed dance, declined to comment on claims that maidens were hallucinating, but she said the rain and cold was too much for the women.
The maidens dress in traditional beads, which leaves most the body uncovered.
“I could not stand the rain. The girls had to leave the field because it was cold, although they were forced to go back (to the soccer field),” she said.
However, she said the rain was a symbol of blessing for the event.
“Most of us were very appreciative of the rain since Nongoma is very dry. This was a blessing rain.”
Meanwhile, Department of Transport spokesman Kwanele Ncalane said 16 drivers were arrested for drunken driving on the R66 between Ulundi and Nongoma at the weekend. One of them was a government official driving a state vehicle.
Two government vehicles were impounded after it was discovered the drivers were not authorised to drive them.
The arrests were carried out by an integrated team of the Road Traffic Inspectorate and SAPS.
Ncalane said a total of 1 500 vehicles were stopped on the same route and 800 fines were issued for various faults with vehicles.
He said a bus carrying maidens from Port Shepstone was impounded on the N2 at eMdloti, after it was discovered to be unroadworthy.