COVID-19 brings major changes to funerals in SA


Since South Africa’s first lockdown on March 27 last year to try to limit the spread of Covid-19,funerals have had strict controls placed on them under the government’s State of Disaster regulations. Funerals must be held within five days of death, no more than 50 people can attend, no
night vigils allowed. Lockdown level 3 imposed from December 27 has extended these restrictions. If you break the law you will be charged.


NTU News reporter Asavela Mbali looks at how the traditional farewell and closure has changed, from her personal experience.

In Methodist church tradition, when a church member dies, the church from day they receive the news of the passing they visit the family every day, they will have prayers during the day and a service on the afternoon.


If the deceased was a full member in a church that is, he/she was wearing a church uniform, was participating on churches activities, then the church will come on Wednesday (eKhandleleni) to light a candle that will be a full service.


On Thursday the church will come to hang the uniform (Uxhomo Bhatyi) that is if, for example, a mother was a full member of the church and she had children who were also going on the same church. After the service (Uxhomo Bhatyi) the uniform is passed on to the next relative who would
want to follow on their steps.


The night before a funeral people will have a waiting for a body service (umlindo). After the body arrives it will be taken to the house, have a prayer then they open the casket for people who want to
see the body for the last time.


After that service they take the body to the tent where a full service will be held. After the full service they will take the body where it will be buried (eMadlakeni) then they bury the body. Things changed because of COVID-19 on how the churches operate for funerals.

The services that they normally hold are dismissed to avoid big crowds. The church has classes, the classes are grouped according where you stay so that you can be able to meet outside the church and discuss or have meetings.


For example if a church needs cleaning supplies then as a class you meet and discuss. The church class leader will be the one will attend the funeral to avoid big numbers during the service. When the body arrives in the morning it goes straight where it will be buried.


“The church will have a small prayer, then they finish their service in the tent,” said Babalwa Sigcau who is a member of John Weslie Society in Umtata. Asavela Mbali recently lost her mother who was a full member of the Methodist church in Mthatha.


“I am not happy on how things are done now because, we do not do things according to our Methodist tradition not that I do not understand the situation, people are afraid of COVID-19 or to be arrested,” she said.


Asavela said the church did not have the service of hanging of the uniform (uxhomo bhatyi) and they did not have a waiting of the body service (umlindo). Almost all the traditional services did not have them.

“The funeral service was shortened to an hour and a few minutes. People could not say what they wanted to say about the deceased because of the new regulations,” said Asavela.

“It is sad on how things turn out because of COVID-19 pandemic people don’t do things according to what they should be doing, I believe people find closure in funerals, they say what they want to say about the diseased and if we cannot attend funerals how are going to find closure? Is this our new norm? Should people start accepting this new norm?”

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