Because of traditional and religious beliefs, some Eastern Cape families are defying Covid-19 regulations by exhuming the corpses of those who died of the virus, saying that the plastic used to encase the corpses suffocates their dead relatives.
The Faleni family in Nkwenkwana village in Ngcobo said they had not slept peacefully since burying a loved one who had succumbed to the virus.
Recently they hired 10 men to exhume the body to remove the plastic cover.
Thembisile Faleni died of Covid-19 related complications in July, and was now apparently “visiting the family” in their dreams, saying “his body was tied up like a criminal”.
He was a well-known taxi boss at Ngcobo.
His widow, Nolusapho, said weeks after his burial Faleni started appearing in dreams to different members of the family, complaining about the suffocation caused by the plastic used to wrap his mortal remains.
She said the family called a meeting to discuss her husband’s appearance in their dreams. The family decided not to inform the police about the exhumation.
“We decided to dig up his grave at night. The men who carried out the procedure were shocked to discover he had been tied up like a criminal. They removed the ropes.”
We decided to dig up his grave at night. The men who carried out the procedure were shocked to discover he had been tied up like a criminal. They removed the ropes
Traditional expert Loyiso Nqevu said they were concerned about the Covid-19 method of burial because “it neglects family values and customs”.
Nqevu said he knew of at least four families who had exhumed their loved ones, removed the plastic cover and reburied them.
“According to our tradition, there is still life, even after death. So those who have passed on must be laid to rest in a respectful way. We have our own rituals in terms of burial.”
Nqevu said families ought to be given an opportunity to perform certain traditional rituals with the dead body at the mortuary and at the home of the deceased.
Traditional expert and Icamagu Institute director Dr Nokuzola Mndende said if the spirits of dead people were unhappy, they would reveal themselves to family members in the form of persistent dreams.
“So, for example, [if] someone was buried in a waterlogged grave, they persistently reveal themselves in a dream asking to be taken out of the water.
“This plastic around the body is not right and is believed to be disrespectful,” Mndende said.
Chemical pathologist Dr Kas Kasonga warned, however, that removing the plastic could pose a health threat because the coronavirus was known to survive on surfaces surrounding an infected person.
“This is not the time to follow dreams,” Kasonga said.
“We respect culture, but are you going to investigate a grave and risk infection?
“We are in a situation of war. Our primary objective is to preserve life but we can’t protect lives without people’s understanding,” Kasonga said.
Funeral home Avbob branch manager for Ngcobo Zipho Susela confirmed that Faleni had died of Covid-19.
“This was a Covid-19 body and we received it from Cofimvaba hospital already wrapped. We did not do anything as far as wrapping the body.”
Health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the government condemned those who took matters into their own hands in this way as they put many lives at risk.
“Exhumation can only be authorised by a magistrate and it has to be monitored by health and environment practitioners, police and undertakers,” said Kupelo.