MCEBO DLAMINI: Let's ponder how we mourn an entire community during KZN floods

The problem in South Africa is not one that is only political and economic, but it is also very spiritual. No doubt all these three are related somehow but when we speak about the problems of this nation the spiritual is often ignored. Here I want to suggest that the spiritual must not only be seen as something that we must attend to after we have dealt with socio-economic or political issues but rather as an inherent part of what drives a nation. This is more so in the case of black people where issues about spirituality are closely tied to culture and tradition. Spirituality is part of our being, it informs our identity, who we are as a people. That is why we have rituals, traditional healers, churches and certain spiritual processions which give our lives meaning and coherence.

For us death does not mean a cessation to exist but it suggests a particular transcendence moving from one realm to the other. That is why we have ancestors, not just as people who came before us but people who form and inform our existence in the same way we also inform their existence. We communicate with them through the performance of rituals and following traditions. So the ways in which we bury the dead matter so much, the places in which they are buried also plays a very important role. Where I am going with this is that floods that happened in Kwa-Zulu- Natal have not only made us suffer economically, but the rhythm of our spirituality has also been disturbed. The government announced that the KZN floods have claimed the lives 435 people. The country has to mourn close to 500 deaths, how do we begin mourning so many deaths and what does that mourning look like?

Let me attempt to paint a picture; think of all the graves, those bones underground that were affected by the floods. What this means is that those above the lands were not the only ones who were displaced. Where land was shifting, moving because of the floods do we not think that the different graves were also mumbled up so much that tomorrow it will be impossible to differentiate a Dlamini grave from a Mbhele one? This is very likely going to be the case. What are the spiritual implications of this? It is clear that the residents of the affected areas will have to be moved and that those areas affected are no longer habitable. If they move, what of the bones of their forefathers? Do they exhume them? Is this still even possible?

Let us move on to think about the way we conduct funerals. It is not just a simple procedure of hiding the body underground or cremating it. There is so much more involved. The communities experienced so many deaths in a single instance. Where will the bodies be buried and how will the rituals associated with the funerals be performed? Is this going to be in line with our cultures and practices? If not what are the implications? Considering that the government is working with the City of Cape Town to provide shelter, it is quite obvious that the affected might be moved from KZN. The majority of the areas affected are rural and still live according to customary ways and traditions so it is likely that they still adhere to cultural/spiritual/traditional practices.

In the same way the economics cannot only be left in the hands of economists, politics in the hands of the politicians, the spiritual cannot be left in the hands of priests or healers only. This is to say that these problems facing South Africa demand that we collectively work together in dealing with them. To tackle the problems that we face, questions about culture, tradition and spirituality must not be relegated to the level of a footnote. Rather, they must be considered in all the interventions and solutions that we think might work at making our country better. It can never be that we constantly move away from our cultures, they must be central and not in the margins.

Mcebo Dlamini is a former leader of student protests at Wits University.