Zimbabweans battle cost and bureaucracy of repatriating dead loved ones
27 Jun 2020 • Insurance
Returning a body home costs about R20,000
In March a Zimbabwean woman died in her home in Strand while delivering twins. It was a desperate situation as she left no savings and had no family to provide for the newborn babies. There was also no money to pay for the funeral.
The Zimbabwean community in Strand sought help from the South African government. The babies were then placed with the Department of Social Development. The mother was eventually buried in Lwandile Cemetery.
This spurred local Zimbabweans to organise themselves to help one another with the cost of funerals and the paperwork involved in repatriating bodies back to Zimbabwe.
Most Zimbabweans favour burial over cremation. Repatriating a body from Cape Town to Zimbabwe is expensive. Families that can’t raise the money hold the funeral in South Africa. There are funeral insurance policies, but not everyone takes one out.
Some of the funeral insurance companies that specialise in repatriation for Zimbabweans include Doves with its Zimba-Mzansi Funeral Plan and its Zororo-Phumulani division, and Moonlight Funeral Assurance & Services and MFS Insurance funeral cover.
GroundUp called several companies and got quotes for the repatriation of a body by air to Harare from between R12,800 and R15,000. When repatriated by air, a US$450 (nearly R6,000) tax has to be paid on top of this at the airport to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority and a funeral company should be available to collect the body.
Another option is to send the body by road to Johannesburg and then with Air Zimbabwe.
If the person is to be buried outside of Harare, there is that additional transport cost.
The lowest quotation GroundUp got from funeral companies in Cape Town was by road to Harare for R20,300, which included up to six relatives accompanying the deceased there and back, including the deceased’s personal belongings such as clothes. The highest quote was R27,750 and didn’t include return fare.
Funeral companies will also take over the burden of completing the necessary documentation.
While relatives in Zimbabwe wait, family members also gather in Cape Town, waiting for the necessary documentation. This usually takes a week and includes the burial order, notice of death, post mortem report, death certificate, embalming certificate, non-infectious disease letter, and a permit to repatriate from Home Affairs. A clearance letter also needs to be obtained from the Zimbabwean consulate.
The South African government has been lenient in cases where an undocumented person dies, but a documented family member must complete the paperwork.
The long time it took to lay to rest the Zimbabwean woman in Strand who died when having twins led to the formation of a group called Brother’s Keeper.
In Mbekweni there is a similar initiative called Kugara hunzwana nevamwe (meaning “one should be on good terms with the neighbours”) and in Masiphumelele another called Khumbulekhaya (meaning “remember home”).
Brother’s Keeper currently has 250 members. When there’s a death, members contribute towards the cost of repatriation. Typically the organisation can raise R3,000 to R4,000 when someone dies and this helps ease the burden for families. Bruce Taderera, chairman and one of the founders of the association, said it has already helped five families since March.
Nevertheless, despite this assistance, dealing with death remains expensive and administratively burdensome for Zimbabweans living in Cape Town.