The Diaspora, burial and patriotism

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By Nick Mangwana

In Britain there is a particular company that has made itself specialists in repatriating bodies of Zimbabweans. They know most Zimbabwean funerary practices and taboos. They have contacts in the whole Zimbabwean body repatriation system.

Nick Mangwana
Nick Mangwana

If one goes on their website there are always obituaries of deceased Zimbabweans. They have even spent a long time in Zimbabwe to have a feel of the landscape. There is a time when they were repatriating an average of three Zimbabweans a week. If one goes by the obituaries currently on their website, these numbers possibly still obtain.

But why are all these Zimbabweans being repatriated back home when they die? Is this really necessary or just a vain necrotic-sentimentality or necro-patriotism? This week this column will shy away from politics seeing how fluid and treacherous the terrain is.

Surely, those that call themselves political analysts are scratching their heads trying to make sense of where Zanu-PF politics is going. There is a new game in town where someone is placed in a certain position in the party and automatically have crosshairs drawn on their back. Target practice starts immediately.

The narrative follows the same script over and over again. The liberation struggle credentials are questioned. That is Phase 1. Phase 2 is there are accusations of plotting against the President.

Seeing how perilous this road is, we will talk about the dead. Not even the dead heroes.
The safest we can talk about are dead Diasporans. Maybe at this point it is pertinent to make an allusion to the skulls again. Why not?

Because after so much noise by those that had done absolutely nothing in the effort to bring back the remains of the legends but to bask in undeserved publicity and glory, nobody talks about those remains anymore. Why should they? Nobody cared about these heroes since 1980.

It was only after an old man known as Cde R. Mazorodze pushed Zanu-PF Headquarters who contacted their representatives in London to deal with the matter that there was a lot of movement in this regard. The British responded and the matter was given its own ephemeral national importance but for a season.

Even national economic progress now hung upon repatriation of those skulls. But like all fickleness of political expediency once the political mileage had been milked to the last drop everyone went back to their daily business of hustling for a living and attempting to be the next President of the country or at least get those they are close to, to be the First Citizen.

And the skulls remain where they are with the British hoping this remains so because the publicity reflected a history of inhumane barbarity. Well, the skulls will go home. So will all those Zimbabweans that die every week in the Diaspora. But why?

Why do people need to go back and be buried where they were born and grew up? One is reminded of a case that happened a couple of years ago in the family of a close comrade. His dear wife tragically died in an accident. They had teenage children.

The children preferred for their mother to be buried in the UK so that on her birthday they would go and lay flowers in commemoration. On Mother’s Day they would remember her by laying flowers and of course on the anniversary of her demise they would go to her resting place to say a silent prayer in remembrance.

But then you know how things are in Shona customary practice. She is only yours when she is alive, when she is dead she belongs to the maiden family. They will call the shots in most cases.

And so they did and she was buried in the village home in Zimbabwe. The question on many observers’ lips was whether this was really the right thing to do seeing that the children have their lives in their adopted country. They do visit Zimbabwe once in a very long while.

And with urbanisation maybe in a few years when the grandparents have all departed there will be nobody and nothing left except graves with nobody to attend to them. Opinions will always be split on this one.

Some believe that burial places are sacred so it has to be that special place. Migratory settings have very little to do with it. There are funerary rites that need to be performed at someone’s interment. And certain families have the elders to do that in Zimbabwe. So they have to be buried in the same family cemetery where their ancestors rest.

Some just want the ceremony that comes with the mourning of our people that includes heart rending weeping but the use of “professional mourners” in a Zimbabwean setting is a way too far for this simple mind. Zimbabweans by nature do not have to be invited for a funeral. They just go.

Even if they did not know the deceased personally they just weep away in solidarity with those that are grieving around them. So relevance of this very foreign practice is not palatable to a lot.

Anyway that’s a side-track. Some people repatriate their dead because burial defines who a person thought they were. If not them then who the family thought they were. So if the family are quite strong on being a Zimbabwean, there is a very strong likelihood that the deceased will be repatriated as some kind of posthumous social positioning.

Repatriation does not necessarily reflect on lack of integration for those in the Diaspora, no. It might reflect that people have remained a part of their former communities or are still held by nostalgic vanity.

Some believe burial is burial or cremation is still acceptable, after all the idea is to just get rid of a body in a decent manner after all in a while that body might be very offending. So the geography of the burial is inconsequential.

Most of the reasons why people are buried where they come from is the concept in migration called “the myth of return” which puts immigrants in a perpetual state of transition. The myth of return is based on the constant belief by the immigrant that they would return to their place of birth, that they will live their former lives as well reconnect with the social and cultural attributes of the past.

It’s myth because more often than not it will never happen in one’s life time. They might visit from time to time but the final journey is always made posthumously.

Thus, many Zimbabweans would not bury their relatives in the country of residence because of their continued attachment to the motherland.

What has been more noticeable is the prevalence of the practice of burying of children and babies in the country of residence as parents feel that taking their children back to Zimbabwe, bury them and leaving them there is tantamount to “dumping” them.

But one thing that is likely to happen is that once children are buried in the adopted home then the parents will be buried in the same place.

Then there are those not lost on symbolism who declare that a son of the soil should be buried in the soil where their umbilical code was interred. Sometimes this is just a sentimental attachment based on the politics of ethnic affiliation and indigeneity.

Just some search for sentimentality or spiritual connectivity. There is some evidence that those who have not been to Zimbabwe in 10-15 years are more indignant over what they read in biased papers regarding the state the country is in.

When they phone relatives in Zimbabwe about the so-called repression they are reading, the relatives wonder what they are talking about as these are things they don’t hear or know. We will call that concept “an indignation of the absent”. There is no right or wrong answer as to the best way to treat one’s dearly departed.

What is clear is that because of the social dislocation that comes with the concept of Diasporan communities, new terms have been added to the political lexicon. People now talk of necro-politics.

An example of this is what has been witnessed when the daughter of a Zimbabwean music royalty died recently in the United States of America. Situations of people that die in the Diaspora have to be delicately managed. It is not always necessary for someone to be buried in Zimbabwe.

This is just sentimental necro-patriotism. Patriotism is what one does for their country when they are alive. Not the idea of just returning in a box. One has to be careful here lest rampant Zimra sees an opportunity and starts charging Diasporans a “Grief Levy” before they return their loved ones’ remains!

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