Cost of dying in SA ruins Zimbabweans

barbara_dijoeJOHANNESBURG - Twenty-eight-year-old Mehleli Nkosi* sits on the rough, dusty floor legs folded around her lower body, the upper body pivoting on her left hand, as tears well uncontrollably down her cheeks. (Pictured: Barbara Djioe: A more reasonable option?)

Her right hand holding a used match-stick, she keeps drawing lines on the floor and wiping them off a few seconds later, continuing the routine each time someone talks to her.

In front of her and a few inches away, a candle burns dimly, besides which an almost empty white bowl with a few coins silently begs for recognition.

A few visitors arrive within minutes of each other and pass their condolences in a seemingly choreographed manner that gets the same response from Nkosi.

So, what arrangements have been made for the funeral? one from each group asks. Nkosi gives each the same curt reply, I have no money to do anything.

After exchanging a few empty glances among themselves, the visitors depart again within minutes of each other, leaving behind many well wishes, but very little in terms of money in the begging bowl in front of her.

Having lost her brother, the only relative she had in South Africa, a few days ago, the unemployed woman has no idea where she will get money to pay the mortuary, let alone finance the repatriation of his body to Zimbabwe.

The mortuary will cost her about R150 for each day her brothers body is kept after seven days – money she does not have.

Eventually, she sells her fridge, her stove and other personal belongings, but touches very few of those owned by her late brother, fearing bad omens afterwards. She takes a few other belongings to loan sharks, who lend her the remainder of the money she needs.

Still, her problems are not over. Her three years of sweat having been flushed down the drain. She has borrowed more than she can repay and that will mean attracting the wrath of the loan sharks, which is usually accompanied by death threats.

Nkosi is only one of many Zimbabweans to find themselves entangled in such a crisis, where death has visited and left them having to start all over again.

Dorian Masasanya, who owns a funeral parlour that deals mostly with Zimbabweans, has previously told this newspaper that many have been forced to bury their relatives in the neighbouring country, miles away from where African tradition allows them to.

According to a quotation obtained by The Zimbabwean from some funeral parlours in South Africa, it costs between R7 350 and R14 350 for an adult body to be repatriated to Zimbabwe, with the cheapest being a four-seater vehicle and free groceries.

All these amounts are beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans, most of who earn minuscule monthly salaries of around R1 500, more than half of it going towards accommodation, which is very expensive.

We have seen some worrying situations when Zimbabweans die in South Africa, as most people lack resources, said Joice Dube, Executive Director of the Johannesburg-based Southern African Womens Institute for Migration Affairs (SAWIMA).

The reasons vary, with some of these people not getting enough from their workplaces and with death befalling people unexpectedly, most have been left with no choice. However, people can come together, form groups and pay monthly subscriptions that will help them in such times. We can assist them with directions on how to go about it if approached.

Having realised the need to prepare, some Zimbabweans have formed burial societies, where they pay joining fees and monthly subscriptions that eventually give members assistance in times of their need.

However, the joining fees of around R500 and monthly subscriptions of R250, coupled with the compulsory need to attend regular meetings, have pushed burial societies beyond the reach of many Zimbabweans.

One parlour offers what seems to be a workable solution.

We offer policies for very limited charges here, said Barbara Dijoe of Kings and Queens Funeral services, located in Doorfontein, near central Johannesburg.

Our joining fees are R200 and with monthly premiums of R45 covering the whole family, people can find solace in that. One only needs their Zimbabwean identity documents or birth certificates to sign up with us. A member gets full benefits after paying six consecutive premiums.

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