Prominent cleric Ngwiza Mnkandla says Covid-19 has disrupted the traditional way Zimbabweans mourn their dead as they can no longer gather for funerals.
Mnkandla (NM), the overseer of Faith Ministries Worldwide, told Alpha Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN), that some of the cultural norms that can no longer be practised due to the pandemic gave people closure.
Below are excerpts from the interview.
TN: So Bishop we decided to have this conversation because of the pain that is all over the world because of Covid.
The grief, the deaths that we are witnessing.
I mean in Zimbabwe alone we have had over 100 000 cases and 3 300 deaths.
Worldwide we are talking of 194 million cases and 4,2 million deaths.
You sit in London Bishop Ngwiza, you are the overseer of Faith Ministries Worldwide.
For those people that do not know you, you were instrumental in the creation of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.
You also have done quite a lot of work, God’s work as I would want to call it in planting churches all across Zimbabwe.
You started Faith Ministries, and grew it from one congregation to 50 congregations all across Zimbabwe.
You were at one time the executive director of Zambuko Trust.
But that is not what we are here for. We are here specifically to look at Covid, grief and the healing.
Talk to me Bishop from where you are right now in terms of what you are seeing as far as this situation is concerned?
What is prevailing in Zimbabwe as far as grief and healing is concerned?
NM: Trevor we are in trouble at the moment.
The pandemic is ravaging the country. When we look at Zimbabwe, at some point we had thought that we had been spared from the pandemic, but sadly you know this third wave is just hitting us badly.
People are dying, and from reports on the ground, obviously we are monitoring the situation very closely.
We are reading the papers and from the reports on the ground, the picture is very grim.
We are losing a lot of people and people are broken, you know. In many quarters there is hopelessness.
Fear has gripped people’s hearts and there is just a lack of knowing where to go, and in the midst of this sometimes there is no clear direction from anyone in terms of the way forward.
TN: We will talk about my own personal circumstances Bishop. I lost my father, lost my mother, lost my niece due to Covid all in one week.
But there are certain issues Bishop, which are specific I think to the continent and more precisely to Zimbabwe?
What are the cultural issues that you see at interplay as far as the Covid deaths, and the healing and the grief are concerned?
NM: This situation flies against the face of some of our cultural practices.
Trevor let us talk about some of the traditions that we grew up with.
For instance, going right to basics, where if you heard that there was a death in the family you dropped everything and you ran.
It did not matter what you were doing, you just needed to be at the place where everybody was gathering.
Then you have got the situation where we would gather for quite a few days and mourn together.
The arrangements would be made while we are together, and that is no longer the case now.
People are still trying to do that, but it is just flying against the science that we have been advised on.
You take a situation of viewing the person, who has departed. We would pay our last respects by seeing the body.
There are situations; I can tell you of a situation in my village where a body came from South Africa and they insisted on opening the casket because they were not going to bury their child without seeing their child.
As a result of that opening, five of the family members died a week after that.
So these are some of the cultural norms that are having to be broken.
We are being told that we should not gather, we should not have vigils, we should not come in our numbers, but culturally you know how difficult that is. So Covid is running against cultural norms.
TN: So what does that do Bishop?
The fact that you know culturally this is what we have been doing for centuries, but like you have outlined, in your village five people died after opening the casket of a deceased, who was Covid positive.
So we are pushing against what science is saying we should do and what culture is saying we should do?
And clearly the warning here is that science must take the forefront? What does that do to us as we grieve in this kind of situation?
NM: It is introducing a tremendous conflict within us culturally.
Some of the norms that we used to practise gave us closure, they gave us the ability to mourn together.
There was that solace in comforting one another during those days when you were waiting for the funeral and processing the funeral, and so you did this together and it brought comfort, it brought closure.
Trevor, we do not have that anymore.
Our relatives are dying in loneliness and we do not have the opportunity to say goodbye to them and this is breaking the nation.
There is just so much pain out there. It is very difficult.
We have to come to terms with a new norm, but this new norm is very difficult, it is very painful, it is a bitter pill to swallow.
TN: You have just brought to surface my own recent situation with the passing of my mother and my father.
I think for me Bishop, help me here.
The fact that I am in Harare, I get a call that dad has passed on then the next two days mom has passed.
Fortunately, with mom I was able to go and identify her at the funeral home. With dad I never got that opportunity.
So I feel I have not had that closure, point number 1.
Point number 2, when they were in hospital we depended on a nurse or a doctor to find out how they were doing.
They had been in hospital before, we visited them, you sit by the bedside, you hold their hands and you hear from them what the problem would have been, what the pain was.
In this instance right now as I am talking to you Bishop I have those questions. How did my mom die?
What were the last seconds of her life?
What were the last seconds of my father’s life? Is there anything that he would have wanted to say? Unfortunately, I will never know. Help me. How do I deal with that Bishop?
NM: Trevor this is a live situation, which is very typical of what is happening around us. I am sorry for your loss.
It is a very painful situation.
Let me push back a little bit here Trevor because I think you will help a lot of your viewers by just sharing your experience in terms of just maybe responding to a few questions that I will share with you.
Tell us a little bit about the process when your father fell ill? Your parents? How did they fall ill? How long did it take?
What was the genesis? What was the journey of their falling ill and eventually passing?
TN: Thank you Bishop for that question. The journey was about seven days for both of them.
In the first instance I get a call and we hear that they are not well, it is flu-like symptoms, but immediately the next day we rush them to have them tested and it is confirmed that they are both Covid positive.
We have a doctor, who goes and sees them and then two or three days down the line we hear that things are bad and in the first instance my father has to be admitted in hospital.
Mom remains behind, but three or four hours later she collapses because things have gotten bad.
She is also rushed to hospital, but they do not get to see each other, and one of the painful things Bishop is that we get told that dad at some point on the last night was walking to the reception to find out and to talk to somebody “Please can you tell me how my wife is like? I gather she’s in here, how is she feeling?”
I spoke to my father only once. So there’s a sense of regret in me Bishop, that maybe I should have been firmer in insisting that they be vaccinated.
I made a call that they be vaccinated. I was told something and I sort of stepped a bit back and I did not put my foot down to say no they should be vaccinated.
So that is one of my regrets. Did I do enough to ensure that they got vaccinated?
Those are some of the issues that I am battling with and I am sure there’s a lot of other viewers, who are battling with similar issues.
NM: A man in your position is in a position of means that you could have done what needed to be done perhaps to save their lives, but how do you feel not having been able to press any buttons? To do anything to change their circumstance?
TN: You know there’s the intellectual side of me and the spiritual side of me and the rational side of me that says you know Trevor it does not matter how much money you had.
If this is the time that God had set for them, there is little that you could have done.
Then the other side of me pushes back and says no could you not have taken them to a better hospital.
Could we have pushed to have them vaccinated? Should I not have flown down to make sure that they were in a good situation?
So I have lots of those ‘ifs’ Bishop, which unfortunately I do not have answers to.
Ultimately, I have to say to myself let me accept fully what has happened, let me resign myself and rather surrender myself completely to what God has allowed to happen. Is that a healthy way of looking at it?
NM: Well you have no choice in a sense, but one of the things that we must do is handle the emotions, put on the table some of the questions that we have; the struggles that we have, because these struggles are very real.