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Family locked out of mother’s funeral


It is a hot, slightly humid Tuesday afternoon. The Moyo homestead in Donga location, Francistown, appears deserted. Save for a lone figure sitting forlornly under the comforting shade of a shepherd tree, there is no movement in the yard.

Three cars are squeezed together in the small, immaculately swept plot. A bottle of liquid soap is conveniently placed on top of one of the pillars holding the gate.

This previously rare spectacle is becoming an increasingly common sight in Botswana for a family in mourning amid the ‘Cornovirus era’.

The Moyos lost their grandmother, who passed away last Tuesday, aged 60.

Under normal circumstances, family members and neighbours would have congregated at the yard for the daily vigils. A fleet of cars would be lining the yard’s perimeter wall.

But these are not normal circumstances.

The family, like countless others around the country, have to comply with the lockdown rules set by the Botswana government in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19.

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To their credit, the Moyos, despite their misgivings, are doing well in observing social distancing and the required hygiene as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Despite their compliance, the family is angry.

Movement restrictions imposed on the citizenry has left them frustrated, hopeless and, above all, angry.

In an emotionally charged interview, the family spokesperson, Aaron Moyo, 48, revealed they had initially planned to bury the old woman in Ramokgwebana last Saturday.

However, they were denied a permit and ordered to bury her in Francistown instead.

“We understood where the authorities were coming from and decided that we should compromise and hold the funeral in Francistown,” he explained, his voice crackling with fierce intensity.

According to the greying Zezuru elder, the family encountered another problem when relatives of the old woman in Ramokgwebana were denied permits to attend the funeral.

“These include the old woman’s own kids! One of her children is in Gaborone and she was also denied a permit to come home to bury her mother. Just how do we bury her in the absence of her children and family members,” demanded a visibly livid Aaron, repeatedly shaking his head in disgust.

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While he understands the decision taken by the authorities, Aaron does not agree with a blanket approach to all the challenges.

“First the health authorities should have established what killed the old woman and cleared her of any danger she might pose. The next step would have been to work with the family to ensure that the people who really matter are given permits to attend the funeral. Now we’ve a child stuck in Gaborone, while others are in Ramokgwebana!” he said, his fury now mixed with obvious desperation.

“This is a first in Botswana. Now we’re stuck with a corpse as we still try to work around this issue. The family is yet to agree on the date of the burial,” concluded an animated Aaron, his eyebrows knotted into a deep furrow and his lips trembling in the midst of his lined face.

Meanwhile according to the lockdown rules, there’s no possible remedy for the Moyo family as a special permit can only be applied to transport a deceased person. The rules states that in this case, only the deceased and hearse driver will be granted permission to travel, and the deceased should not be accompanied during the period of social distancing.
To drive this point home, Francistown District Commissioner Chabongwa Matseka told The Voice in an interview that no permits given to allow movement between villages or towns.
“We still see people coming here to apply for permits and register various complaints. The truth however is unless you’re an essential service worker you won’t get any permit. We don’t issue permits for funerals either,” she said.

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