What started off as a sad week of mourning and coming to terms with the sudden passing of my aunt, who succumbed to breast cancer on the morning of Tuesday 17 March, quickly turned into frustration and confusion a week later when President Ramaphosa announced that there would be a 21-day countrywide lockdown that would start on midnight 26 March.
How were we going to travel to KwaZulu-Natal from Gauteng when the government restricted domestic travel? Would my aunt get a dignified burial with gatherings of more than 100 people banned? Would anyone even attend the funeral? Was I ever going to get a chance to say goodbye and send her off to her final resting place?
With a little information from my aunt’s children who had spoken to the priest and the Pietermaritzburg SAPS, we were told that close family members could attend the funeral provided they carry a death certificate as proof of where they were travelling to.
On the morning of Thursday 26 March, we drove down to Pietermaritzburg and arrived in town at 1pm. We had to do some last-minute shopping as non-essential shops would be closing soon. We searched for hand sanitisers everywhere but they were out of stock. We decided to improvise by buying two big bottles of antiseptic liquid and a few juice bottles, which we’d mix water and the soap into to create a handwash for the people who’d be coming to help with the funeral preparations.
The day of the funeral, Saturday 28 March , we couldn’t have a full church service as the priest was only allowed to speak to the family and bless the coffin within 15 minutes. We also did not have a night vigil prior to the funeral. During the 15-minute-long church service, the few neighbours who had attended were asked to sit on chairs outside while the priest comforted family inside the house. Soon after that, the family and the priest headed to the cemetery.
The neighbours did not get to accompany the family to the cemetery as a maximum 50 people were allowed to enter – consisting mostly of family, my aunt’s children, her grandchildren, her sister and brothers, as well as their children. Most relatives from Gauteng and the Eastern Cape were unable to attend. So they just sent money and kept checking in on how everything was going. Some of the neighbours had also been afraid to attend the funeral as they heard that people from Gauteng were around and were afraid to contract the virus.
Upon returning from the cemetery, everyone ate and only those who were helping with the cleaning as well as family members remained behind. There was a lot of excess food leftover as a cow and sheep had been slaughtered as is burial tradition. Neighbours were given food in lunch tins to take home to their families.
We returned to Gauteng on Monday 30 March and were constantly stopped by SAPS on the road as there were five of us in the car and none of us had travel permits. We had tried to obtain permits from the local police station as well as the Msunduzi municipality prior to our journey but we were unsuccessful. The police told us they did not have the authority to issue permits and the municipality was confused on how to deal with the situation.
With a lot of pleading, explaining and showing SAPS on the roads my aunt’s death certificate, we managed to arrive in Gauteng where we’d spend the rest of the lockdown.
Losing someone you love during a global pandemic is unexpected and incredibly difficult, but we did what we could for the person we loved.