Zimbabweans Spend Big to Repatriate Bodies
27 Jun 2020 • Insurance
Repatriation is important for many families in Zimbabwe who believe relatives must be buried in their homeland, but as more Zimbabweans build lives outside their native country, repatriations and the costs associated with them rise. Some have responded by creating businesses and crowdfunding to meet the increased need for repatriation services.
With as many as four million Zimbabweans living abroad, according to the International Organization for Migration, body repatriation is big business these days. Costs can tally well into the thousands for body transportation services, with additional options, like offering a small bus to bring relatives back to Zimbabwe with the body.
It cost the family 23,000 South African rands ($1,696) to bring the body from Durban to Zimbabwe, where Zisengwe’s nephew will be laid to rest, he says.
“As a family, we managed to raise 15,000 rands ($1,106),” he says. For the rest, they received assistance from fellow church members in South Africa.
Despite the costs, many Zimbabweans say it’s a priority to bring loved ones home when they die in foreign lands. Members of Shona culture, a large tribe here, practice something known as kurova guva, which welcomes to the spirit back to be with its kin in Zimbabwe. But the country’s ongoing financial crisis and cash shortage have made body repatriation more difficult for local families.
Losing a loved one abroad is emotionally traumatic and a logistics nightmare, says Gladys Jani, whose aunt died in South Africa in June.
“My aunt collapsed when she was at a church service. When we received the message here in Zimbabwe, no one believed that it was true,” she says.
The South African company charted 15,700 rands ($1,157) to bring the body and a few relatives to the border, she says, adding that they received assistance from church members and friends of her aunt.
Repatriating the body was a way to give closure to the family, she says.
“It’s easy for the family to visit the grave and put flowers whenever they feel like, instead of not knowing where your relative was buried in a foreign land,” she says. Funeral policies are becoming more common, Matsika says. Doves, the funeral parlor where he works, offers services to both policy and non-policy holders, though non-policy holders are required to pay cash for the services up front. Cost, he says, can vary widely.
“The costs of our services are measured by distance, type of coffin and the hearse one chooses,” he says.
Rates range from 15,000 rands ($1,106) by road and 35,000 rands ($2,581) by air for someone coming from South Africa, and as much as $7,000 for repatriation from England and the U.S.
“In our culture, people would want to point where they buried their relative,” Matsika says. Some small businesses have emerged to ease demand. Godfrey Sagotora, founding director of Pamusha Funeral Services based in South Africa, in a written email to Global Press Journal, says he opened the business in 2014 after noticing an upsurge of deaths of foreigners. Sagotora’s company repatriates bodies into Zimbabwe weekly, he says.
“In a month, we repatriate an average of 14 bodies to Southern African countries which include Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia,” he says.
The costs of repatriation vary with distance but their prices range from 12,000 rands ($885) to 22,000 rands ($1,622). “The African belief within us is still very strong when it comes to offering last respect to the deceased,” he says. “We believe the last respect can only be offered at home with all relatives. For one to be buried in a foreign land in foreign graveyards and traditions, it still remains a taboo within our culture.” Traditional healers confirm the uptick in services.
“The process of bringing human bodies back to Zimbabwe is done to bring back the spirit of the dead person back to his or her roots and ensure that it rests in the right place,” says Prince Sibanda, a traditional healer. “According to our tradition, a person who dies should have a grave that is close to his or her family; this is the reason why people repatriate their relatives.” In some cases, if someone not buried in their place of origin, their spirit might come back as bad omen and cause problems within the family, Sibanda says. To avoid cultural and spiritual problems, families go to great lengths to repatriate their loved ones. In Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped economy, many are turning to online fundraising sites. Nigel Mugamu, who runs a crowdfunding platform called Tswanda, says they created the platform in 2015 to crowdfund for issues around bereavement.
“We have not had campaigns for people raising money for repatriation yet, but we have had people raising money to help bereaved people who are in need,” he says. Mugamu however has a different view on repatriation. “The desire may be there to bring our loved ones back home but there is need to be practical and do a cost benefit analysis; the money used to bring the body can be used to help pay for fees for children left by the deceased,” he says. Some people just accept that if they die in the U.K., they get buried there due to the costs involved, Mugamu says. Other popular sites, like GoFundMe are used to raise money. For example, a recent campaign for Valentine Sewera, a Zimbabwean who died in Cyprus, raised $1,255 for repatriation costs.
Gamuchirai Masiyiwa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Shona.