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Behind the scenes at a funeral

20 June 2009

Peter Nkhimise died last week and we buried him today.

I did not know him well. He was the younger brother of Christina Mothapo, who at 83 is the oldest member of our Mamelodi congregation (her godmother, Elizaveta Mullimos, is 95, and still drives herself to church). When I went to visit Christina her brother Peter was sometimes sitting in the yard in the winter sun, and I would greet him.

Last week he got flu, and when he had recovered from that he got hiccups, and then died. So I went to visit the family and prayed with them. Christina and some other other relatives were, according to the local mourning custom, sitting on a mattress in an otherwise bare room. The males were outside, sitting on plastic chairs in the street. We prayed, and chatted, and only then did Christina tell me that her brother Peter used to be a regular churchgoer until he became blind. I felt bad about that. Last year we baptised another old man, Blackie Sibiya, who had become to frail to go to church, but knowing about him, we sometimes went to have services in his house. If I had known, we could probably have made a similar arrangement for Peter Nkhimise.

This morning we had the burial service in a tent in front of the house, half in the front yard, and half in the street. Many of them had been there overhight for the vigil (wake). Then we went to the cemetery, a procession of several cars and two buses. On our return there were two queues outside in the street of people being served food. Close relatives and clergy get to be served in the  tent. Meat, chicken, rice, cabbage, potato and bean salad. I skipped the meat and the chicken because it is the Apostles’ fast, but there were plenty of other kinds of food.

This was not the only funeral this weekend. One the way to the cemetery we had got caught up in the tail end of a funeral procession, and several others were coming away. And most, like ours, have about 100-200 people.And every Sunday when we go to Mamelodi for services, we encounter a funeral procession somewhere.

How is all this done and organised in a tiny township house? The kitchen is far to small to feed that many people. People in middle-class suburbs, faced with such a situation, would probably call in a firm of commercial caterers. That’s why I took a photo behind the scenes, to show how it’s done. Cooking and washing up are moved to the backyard. Perhaps the pots are hired, or borrowed from a burial society. Voluntary burial societies help with the organisation of such things.

Behind the scenes at a funeral

Behind the scenes at a funeral

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 June 2009 3:16 am

    Burial societies and other sorts of mutual aid organizations were for a long time very important in African-American communities, especially here in the South. Some of those traditions are still alive in places, such as New Orleans (not that surviving mutual aid societies got much coverage for their work after the hurricane).

    • 22 June 2009 6:25 am

      Here they and stokvels are the main vehicles of investment for the poor. A stokvel is a sort of informal credit union.

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