Nqobile Tshili, columnist
UBUNTU and traditional practices that promote harmony in communities are among the social qualities that are causing the rapid spread of the deadly Covid-19.
Health experts have named funeral gatherings as one of the super spreaders of Covid-19, while visiting sick relatives is also contributing to an increase in new infections.
Showing up in numbers to console the bereaved and care for the sick is engraved in the ubuntu philosophy, whose ethics translate into: “I am, because we are” or “humanity towards others”.
Ubuntu’s philosophy totally opposes Covid-19 prevention measures such as isolation, social distancing and even quarantine to avoid exposure.
This noble African tradition could be Zimbabwe’s downfall as the nation battles rising Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Experts have warned that if society does not change traditional behaviors, the country will register more deaths.
Over the past month, the country has seen an increase in the number of deaths from Covid-19 and in the week starting July 11 and ending July 17, a total of 462 people have succumbed to Covid-19.
Mpilo Central Hospital Director General Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said most cultural traditions are not susceptible to Covid-19 and contribute to the spread of the virus.
“Some of our traditional practices are now inappropriate in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of these practices violate health regulations and contribute to the spread of Covid-19. Ubuntu could therefore affect our survival in Covid-19. Therefore, our people must change the way we mourn our loved ones. Funerals have become a very common occurrence, ”said Professor Ngwenya.
“We need to get rid of the wake and only allow a few relatives, maybe 10 people on the day of the burial, to come to the cemetery. Then there is the question of the visit, or the care of the sick, which is very dangerous because it can also lead to the spread of Covid-19. The sick should be taken to hospitals.
Cases of members of the public contracting Covid-19 while visiting sick friends or relatives have become common.
In the worst case, those who visit patients succumb to the virus while those who would have been visited recover.
Professor Ngwenya said hospitals have become strict on parents visiting relatives on wards to prevent the spread of the virus.
University of Zimbabwe professor and culture expert Ms. Lickel Ndebele said that if Ubuntu has been the benchmark for African societies, if communities don’t change their ways, culture will decimate society.
“Aspects of Ubuntu such as caring, sharing, compassion and other associated values actually ensure a happy community in the family spirit. These aspects push us to put our lives in danger. We have to be very careful when we practice these aspects of ubuntu because in the Ndebele or African culture we know that we share our joys and our sorrows, ”Ms. Ndebele said.
She said that by sharing the joys and sorrows there are a lot of mixtures that are no longer needed because of Covid-19.
Ms. Ndebele said, for example, that it is taboo in African communities for a family to bury a relative on their own.
“In Ndebele we say umuntu kazingcwabi, a proverb based on the umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu philosophy. A grieving family is not expected to bury loved ones alone. But neighbors would come to bury this deceased person on behalf of the bereaved family but now we are told that the funeral has become super spreaders of Covid-19. In the spirit of umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, we expect even those who did not attend the funeral to come to the grieving family to express their condolences. But now all of these things are putting us in danger, ”she said,
She said it has become difficult to comply with social distancing regulations in communities as Ubuntu demands that society stand in solidarity with those who mourn, celebrate, or need solace.
“The other aspect of ubuntu is that when you don’t do what is expected of you in the ubuntu philosophy, then you are considered umthakathi (a witch). If you do not go to a wake, you will be considered a witch. You will be tagged as someone who is not cooperating, because one of the things about Ubuntu is that we share and participate. But ubuntu is a concept that allows you to be attentive to others and the culture is dynamic, you have to adapt it according to the situation. Culture is not rigid. It always changes depending on the situation and communities must change too, ”Ms. Ndebele said.
She said that another important aspect of ubuntu is the need to save lives and the public must protect lives by following health regulations.
A sociologist and lecturer at Midlands State University, Mr Talent Moyo, said Covid-19 had caused a clash between tradition and health regulations.
“This is why you will find that people try to ignore the danger of the pandemic when it comes to gatherings and the conduct of their rituals. This is usually a conflict of systems, especially when looking at funeral design issues in African societies, ”Moyo said.
He said that given the threat posed by the pandemic, communities should change their ways or risk disappearing.
“We speak of reality as something socially constructed. We need to create new realities in terms of understanding Covid-19 and try to find new ways of thinking. We have to try to convince people that there is a lot of learning and unlearning during this time.
People have to understand that the circumstances have changed, ”he said. – @nqotshili