Disinformation, superstition, rituals, and funerals are considered to be among super-spreaders of the deadly coronavirus in the rural Eastern Cape. With some villages conducting as many as 10 funeral services in a week, the chances of contracting the virus are much higher.
It has also emerged that a number of families have buried wrong bodies after a mix-up at funeral parlours. Now traditionalists want a review of COVID-19 regulations to accommodate families who want to view bodies.
For centuries, rituals like a night vigil and viewing of the body have been the norm and regarded as a dignified way to bid farewell to loved ones.
But the outbreak of the pandemic has forced villagers to make compromises. However, many families still insist on viewing the body due to the number of bodies being processed before delivery.
Eastern Cape traditionalists want a review of COVID-19 regulations for funerals:
Viewing of bodies
Traditional leaders say families must be afforded an opportunity to identify the body at a mortuary.
Contralesa provincial chairperson, Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, has urged the government to come up with a strategy to accommodate families in viewing the bodies.
“They will talk to nobody else. They are not going to talk to any government or to any leaders somewhere. They will talk directly to the families concerned, as to why you are not burying me. These things are real and we do have real cases. A person from KwaZulu-Natal was nearly buried in the Eastern Cape, and a body from the Eastern Cape was buried in KwaZulu-Natal and had to be exhumed.”
It is believed some families exhume bodies to remove the plastic covering before re-burying.
Traditionalist, Dr. Nokuzola Mndende, however, argues that a body separated from the soul cannot be suffocated by layers of plastic.
“I don’t think there is suffocation because the soul leaves the body. It goes to the spiritual world. That is our belief and wrapping the body with plastic for health purposes to avoid the spread of the disease is excellent. What I advise is that at least just to identify the body, the side of the plastic that is covering the face should be transparent.”
COVID-19 regulations during lockdown Level 3:
Funeral parlour owners like Odwa Duru say it is critical to enforce COVID -19 regulations.
“Quite honestly there is no way. We have to use three-layer plastic. Traditionally, I fully understand the outcry of the people, especially in the Eastern Cape. We do understand. I am Xhosa, I do rituals. I am also appeasing the ancestors. It’s not nice, you know, to bury your loved ones, especially the father, mother, you take the body from the mortuary straight to the graveyard without taking the body or coffin to the kraal where we talk to the ancestors.”
Traditionalists believe that diluting tradition and rituals during this pandemic will collapse many family structures. They want regulations to be adjusted, allowing for the safe viewing of bodies. Adding to the risk are funerals which often exceed the allowed number of mourners.