Villagers risking catching COVID-19 to ‘love thy neighbour’

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BY EVANS MATHANDA

Villagers in Mxotshwa under Chief Bunina (Jabulani Chisadza) in Lower Gweru are in a catch 22 situation: Attend funerals and risk catching COVID-19 or ignore cultural norms and their neighbours in their time of need.

The area is among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, but villagers told Southern Eye that although they valued the sanctity of life and the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they valued their culture and the need to respectfully bury their dead relatives.

“It’s a difficult situation to turn a blind eye on my neighbour who has lost his or her family member. Village settings are different from what happens in urban areas when a friend of yours dies. Yes, it’s a pandemic that is dangerous and we know that, but there are some cultural values that we can’t just let go of,” a villager, who refused to be named, said.

He said handshakes to comfort the bereaved family were common at burials, although villagers later wash their hands.

From the investigations made by Southern Eye, the villagers were shocked by the high number of deaths. Most people in Lower Gweru appear to consider COVID-19 an ordinary flu-like disease due to lack of awareness campaigns. At funerals, there is also a lot of movement of plates as people share food.

Acting headman, Emmanuel Makhula told Southern Eye that food was what brought villagers together during funerals.  He said some villagers would have walked more than five kilometres just to attend a funeral wake.

Makhula said COVID-19 had severely affected communities and interfered with the observation of African norms, values and traditions.

“Food has been the main attraction at funerals even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is common that some villagers will attend funerals just to get a plate of sadza.

“This pandemic has become a terrible situation to us as Africans since we have to change our way of doing things which is sometimes difficult to adjust to.  What is painful is that this pandemic is with us now as it is now the new normal,” Makhula
said.

He urged village heads in Lower Gweru to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring that all World Health Organisation preventive protocols were observed during funerals.

“In our meetings with chiefs, we have been preaching the gospel of COVID-19 prevention at funerals.  We have said only 30 people must attend funerals. If we discover that there are more people than required, we send away all those that are not close relatives of the deceased,” Makhula said.

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