Various African cultures across the continent share a universal dogma, that is if general funeral rites are not observed or executed in a proper fashion the spirit of the deceased will come back to torment the surviving relatives.
Zimbabwe is predominately a Christian society, but certain traditional burial rites have been maintained and are still being observed.
Despite the ethnic and cultural differences, one common feature about African funerals is that they are public events where kin and kith gather around to mourn and pay their last respects to their departed.
In most cultures, if the oldest family member passes away, an ox or a cow is slain to accompany the spirit of the deceased and also provide meat for mourners.
However, such was not the case at Sekuru Marozva’s burial, which I attended a day ago.
Sekuru Marozva was a very close friend to my late grandfather; hence in the African context I called him uncle.
To his family, however, he was the only surviving elder and a key figure in his rural community of Buhera.
Being a well off local philanthropist, Sekuru Marozva sent many orphans and vulnerable children to school, and also provided financial assistance to widows in the village.
Sekuru Marozva was survived by 9 children and 16 grandchildren who were strongly attached to him.
Under normal circumstances, his funeral could potentially attract more than 200 mourners.
Nonetheless, government restrictions set to guide funerals in the wake of the Covid 19 global pandemic reduced Sekuru Marozva’s funeral to mere gathering of 30 people.
As mourners were complying to the S.I 99 of 2020, Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) (Amendment) Section 5 which restricts the gathering of more than fifty people.
Felix Matondo, Sekuru Marozva’s eldest nephew bemoaned that government’s restrictions negatively affected the funeral’s arrangements and proceedings.
“We are the only people who managed to attend the funeral. Most of his children, relatives and friends could not be with us as they could not travel due to restrictions.
“Some are in the Diaspora, others are in different cities across Zimbabwe. We are relieved that at least his eldest son managed to be with us today”, he said.
It was a sombre atmosphere, and people could not hug or embrace each other in the spirit of comfort as the police officers were present to enforce Covid 19 preventive measures of maintaining social distance and avoiding human contact.
Hence, those who were mourning lamented while distanced from comforters and without human embrace to cushion the grief.
It was depressing to see Sekuru Marozva’s shaken widow, Mbuya Marozva sobbing on her own with no one to embrace or comfort her loss.
As if that was not enough, her own older sister Mai Musundi, the only surviving sibling could not go close to her grieving sister to console her.
All attempts by Mai Musundi to embrace and comfort her beleaguered sister were quickly thwarted by a police officer on duty at that burial.
“I understand that you are mourning, and you would like to embrace each other. But we have to adhere to the restrictions which were set by the government for us to be safe from Covid 19”, said the police offer restraining Mai Musundi.
Zimbabwe has 36 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
This has prompted the government to set strict measures to control the virus from spreading.
Although the recent lockdown extension came with relaxed terms, the government has maintained a strict stance on public gatherings.
This has witnessed churches, weddings and entertainment shows being prohibited.
On Funerals, the Ministry of Health and Childcare set regulations which require all burials to be done within 24 hours of death and funeral service providers are required to get clearance from a health practitioner before they attend to a body.
As all bodies are now being treated as Covid 19 contaminated, except if the person dies from a road traffic accident or homicide.
Funeral arrangements were done in a hastened fashion for everything to be done properly and on time.
All the traditional funeral rites and customs were skipped as there was no adequate time to do so.
Even the pastor who was supposed to deliver a service was quickly replaced by a Chaplain from the police because of his late arrival.
“Everything is being rushed. As you can see, we did not get the time to slaughter an ox that accompanies the deceased as is our customs and I do not see us performing any traditional burial rites.
“Right now I am focusing on getting the clearance of my uncle’s body so that we finish the proceedings in time” said Sekuru Murozva’s relative who preferred anonymity.
The family had managed to get the funeral clearance the next morning, after Sekuru Murozva had paased away, then the deceased’s body was quickly ferried to the burial place.
The delays, typical in every African public gathering resulted in a consequence that forced mourners to skip the body viewing process.
Sekuru Murozva was buried the moment his body arrived.
The deceased’s children based in the diaspora were even deprived of the video footage and pictures of their father’s funeral.
Sekuru Murozva’s burial was done in exactly 10 minutes so most people did not get the chance to properly pay their last respects.
After all was done, mourners were quickly dispersed.
Such was the burial of Sekuru Murozva, a great family figure who‘s burial did not go according to traditional customs.
Being one of the mourners who strongly felt that Sekuru Murozva did not get a befitting send-off started questioning myself.
“Will Sekuru Murozva together with thousands of people that are being buried in this hastened fashion turn from their graves to torment the surviving relatives for not receiving proper burials and sendoffs?
“Or rather, wherever they are, they understand that there was nothing that their family members could do,” I pondered to myself.
The Covid 19 pandemic has changed the people’s way of life across the globe.
According to World Health Organisation, 4.26 million people are confirmed to have coronavirus and 292 thousand people have died due to the pandemic as at 13 May 2020.
The United State of America reportedly has over 1.4 million infections and 83, 082 deaths.
This has prompted the country to put regulations that only allow close family members to attend the burials of their loved ones.
In cities like Califonia, people are resorting to come up with two burial dates. One will be set to bury the deceased where close family members will attend, and the other one is set for the post Covid 19 period to give relatives the opportunity to pay their last respects.