My family reaction when I announced my cremation wish

16 Jan, 2022 - 00:01 0 Views
My family reaction when I announced my cremation wish A metal urn- image by stock

The Sunday News

Mbuso Ndlovu, Sunday News Reporter
WHEN I announced at a family Christmas dinner that I wish to be cremated when I die, none of my five siblings; three sisters and two brothers, my wife and kid could believe what they were hearing. In unison, they exclaimed that it will happen over their dead bodies.

A few days later Bulawayo City Council was to announce that Athlone Cemetery (extension) was full and closed just like other burial places before it like West Park, original Athlone and Luveve. Burial space is now paid for in advance and there will soon be a waiting list like for residential stands.

BCC has been proactive and came up with unusual solutions to the shortage of burial space. Multiple burials in one grave for family members and cremation are being encouraged. These are not really unheard of in other countries, and mausoleums are known to house many family members while ashes can be disposed of anywhere by the council, sprinkled on my farm or buried in a relative’s grave.

All this is in an endeavour to save land and reserve it for productive purposes for the living. Once one is dead, they have no role to play on earth and must leave it for those who can exploit it to do so.

However, while the BCC is aware that land is limited and has been stretched to the limit, they contradict themselves by asking of residents what councillors and city managers cannot do. Instead of leading by example through family multiple burials or cremation, city fathers (and mothers) and managers have adopted an Animal Farm attitude whereby they have reserved graves for themselves at Lady Stanley Cemetery which never seems to get full, it would appear. How they expect to convince residents to burn their relatives or squat in others’ graves while avoiding the same defies all logic.

Fact is cemeteries are filling up as soon as they are opened and we cannot pretend there will always be land available for unproductive use like burials. While some of us may be aware that burial space is diminishing and may wish for cremation, our relatives stand in the way.

Some years ago, a Bulawayo man spent eight months in a funeral parlour as his wife and daughter fought his sister and other siblings over his wish to be cremated. It took long periods in court and lots of money for Mr Amos Nkomo’s widow, Margaret and daughter Melissa, to go ahead with fulfilling his wish for cremation.

His sister Mrs Eva Zulu (nee Nkomo) and her siblings sought a court order blocking the cremation of their brother’s remains.

To show how seriously emotional the case was, Mr Nkomo’s body had been stuck at Farley Funeral Services parlour for over eight months as the family members squabbled over his final resting rites. While his siblings argued that it was unAfrican and foreign to their culture to cremate him, his wife argued otherwise.

Bulawayo High Court Judge Justice Maxwell Takuva ruled that Nkomo had made it clear to his wife and children that he wished to be cremated. He ordered Mrs Zulu to pay for all the mortuary costs as well as Mrs Nkomo’s legal fees. Mrs Nkomo’s had argued that her husband and his siblings “never observed any cultural practices or traditions, in fact, their family did not place much value on basic cultural values relating to deaths and burials.”

That case shows that BCC has a mountain to climb if families can go to court over cremation. In fact, since 2020 BCC has been advocating for cremation to save land but apparently there have not been any takers as the concept is said to be alien to African cultural values.

The council has even proposed multiple burials in the same grave for relatives but residents have not warmed up to it. On February 7, 2020 BCC councillors even proposed availing free cremation services due to low uptake although there was never any serious follow up on the proposal.

Some residents responded to the council debate on Facebook with Butho Moyo noting it was “a good move, we need to modernise and change this old culture of doing things.” However, Godknows Shumba disagreed: “In which country is this

Bulawayo because there is never no land in Zimbabwe.” He was supported by Thembelihle Moyo who said, “Thina sizalahlelwa emakhaya” meaning “we will be buried in rural areas” blissfully forgetting that a grave in town is relatively safer than one in rural areas.

When towns expand or when precious minerals are discovered in a rural area, without title deeds, the village will be razed to the ground, graves, homes, schools and all. Dams will be built to flood graveyards and villages, sugar plantations will easily displace a chief and his villagers. Development cannot stop because of graves, the new resettlements have shown we can abandon our dead and move to new farms.

It is strange how we place so much importance on disposing of the dead. Which family has not lost a relative in diaspora who ended up being buried by friends and strangers? Which family has not lost a relative to Limpopo crocodiles or waters and believe they have simply turned their backs on their families upon arrival in Johannesburg, so why this fixation with coffins and graves? National University of Technology lecturer, Dr Lawton Hikwa was cremated a few years ago without drama.

He was clear with his plans as he always had a well thought-out life and coming from an enlightened family also helped. He had been a Nust lecturer from 1994 and died on 11 October 2015 at the age of 50. He was also, at the time of his death, a commissioner of the Zimbabwe Media Commission. His family fulfilled his wishes to be cremated.

Isn’t it easy to agree instead of taking aim at each other leaving lasting bitter feuds that could have been avoided if the deceased’s wishes had simply been adhered to and fulfilled? It is not easy enduring a wretched period in hospital yet expecting a turbulent funeral with siblings at odds with each other. After all we pay for our own funeral policies and must have a say.

BCC needs the support of funeral parlours who currently do not cater for cremation. Funeral policies cater for coffins, food, transport and graves but none talks of cremation which is supposed to cost less than burials.

That may be over-egged a bit but funeral parlours can surely move with the times and support BCC by selling cremation and offering discounts since after all people use very cheap plain wooden coffins as seen at Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s cremation. Who wants to take a golden or diamond crusted casket to a raging furnace?

It is with a very heavy heart that although I know cremation is the way to go, without doubt, at the back of my mind I leave room for a protracted family battle that will only depend on those closest to me to resolve in the face of societal and family disapproval, yet the Holy Bible speaks of ashes to ashes and dust to dust.

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding on to something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better,” says CJ Bell and it’s clear we need to be constantly trying new things to fully enjoy our resources, including land.

Stakeholders, including residents need to look at new developments while BCC must focus on changing attitudes among council management and staff. Why do they maintain Lady Stanley cemetery burials while trying to change the community towards cremation? BCC needs to invest in crematorium equipment and the last we heard was about modern equipment being held up somewhere. What residents need is a service that is easily and readily available at the crematorium.

Share This: