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Covid-19 alters funeral rituals

In November, Sethu Dlamini, a self-employed tailor and mother of two, lost her 82-year-old father to cancer.  He was a well-known philanthropist, and typically Dlamini would have needed a tent to hold all the people gathered to celebrate his life.

Instead, there was no wake.

“It was a very lonely time,” she said.

Another common ritual involves family and friends returning to the home of the bereaved for lunch after the burial. At the gate, mourners who went to the cemetery wash their hands, a tradition believed to cleanse them of both dirt and spirits.

“This particular tradition only became more pronounced and effective during Covid-19,” said Thomas Sithole, a civic society activist.

Today, mourners still gather at the deceased’s home. But if more than 30 are present, they can’t enter.

Some have come to the traditional healers association lamenting that “they are dealing with angry spirits who feel they have been disrespected in the way they were buried, [that it] is not according to our traditional culture,” Sibanda said.

Burial and funeral rituals rely on in-person contact and oral tradition, he says. Typically, an elder who knows what is to be done passes along to the next generation both the how and why of those rituals. Coronavirus orders keep that from happening.

“Going back to our full cultural practices will likely never happen,” Sibanda said, “unless chiefs and custodians of our traditional culture make a serious effort to re-educate the younger generations after the pandemic has been reined in.”

— Global Press Journal

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