Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
UBUNTU and traditional practices that promote harmony in communities are among social qualities that are causing the rapid spread of the deadly Covid-19.
Health experts have singled out funeral gatherings as one of the Covid-19 super spreaders, while visiting sick relatives is also contributing to a spike in new infections.
Showing up in numbers to console the bereaved and nursing the ill is etched in ubuntu philosophy, whose ethos translates to: “I am, because we are,” or “humanity towards others”.
Ubuntu philosophy totally opposes Covid-19 prevention measures such as isolating, social distancing and even quarantining to prevent exposure.
This noble African tradition could be Zimbabwe’s undoing as the nation battles with rising Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Experts have warned that if the society does not change traditional behaviour, the country is going to record more deaths.
In the past month, the country has been recording rising Covid-19 deaths and in the week starting July 11 ending July 17 a total of 462 people had succumbed to Covid-19.
Mpilo Central Hospital chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said most cultural traditions are not Covid-19 sensitive and are contributing to the spread of the virus.
“Some of our traditional practices are now inappropriate in the face of Covid-19 pandemic. Some of these practices are contravening health regulations and contribute to Covid-19 spread. So ubuntu could affect our survival from Covid-19. Hence, our people have to change the way we mourn our relatives. Funerals have become super spreading events,” said Prof Ngwenya.
“We need to get rid of funeral vigils and allow only a few relatives, maybe 10 people on the day of the burial, to go to the cemetery. Then there is the issue of visiting, or caring for the ill, that is very dangerous as it can also lead to the spread of Covid-19. The ill should be taken to hospitals.”
Cases of members of the public contracting Covid-19 while visiting ill friends or relatives have become common.
In worst-case scenarios, those who visit patients succumb to the virus while those who would have been visited recover.
Prof Ngwenya said hospitals have become strict on relatives visiting their loved ones in the wards to prevent the spread of the virus.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and a culture expert Ms Lickel Ndebele said while ubuntu has been the benchmark of African societies, if communities do not change their ways, culture will decimate the society.
“Ubuntu aspects such as caring, sharing, compassion and other associated values actually ensures a happy community in the spirit of family. Those aspects draw us towards putting our lives at risk. We need to be very careful as we practice these aspects of ubuntu because in Ndebele or African culture we know that we share our joys and we share our sorrows,” said Ms Ndebele.
She said in sharing joys and sorrows there is a lot of mingling which is no longer necessary because of Covid-19.
Ms Ndebele said for instance it is taboo in African communities that a family single-handedly buries a relative.
“In Ndebele we say umuntu kazingcwabi, a proverb based on the philosophy that umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu. A family with a bereavement is not expected to bury its loved ones alone. But neighbours would come to bury this deceased person on behalf of the bereaved family but now we are told that funerals have become super spreaders of Covid-19. In the spirit of umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, we expect even those who did not attend a funeral to go to the mourning family to express condolences. But now all these things are putting us at risk,” she said,
She said it has become difficult to comply with social distance regulations in communities because ubuntu demands that the society stands together with those who are mourning, celebrating or need comforting.
“The other aspect of ubuntu is that when you don’t do what is expected of you in ubuntu philosophy, you are then considered umthakathi (a witch). If you don’t go to a funeral wake you will be considered a witch. You will be labelled as someone who doesn’t cooperate, because one of Ubuntu’s aspects is that we share and participate. But ubuntu is a concept that allows us to be considerate of others and culture is dynamic, it has to be adjusted according to the situation. Culture is not rigid. It is always changing depending on the situation and communities have to change as well,” said Ms Ndebele.
She said another important aspect of ubuntu is the need to preserve lives and the public should protect lives by following health regulations.
A sociologist and lecturer with Midlands State University Mr Talent Moyo said Covid-19 has caused a clash between tradition and health regulations.
“That is why you will find that people try to disregard the danger that is posed by the pandemic in relation to gatherings and conducting their rituals. It’s generally a clash of systems especially on looking at issues of how funerals are conceived in African societies,” said Mr Moyo.
He said in view of the threat posed by the pandemic communities should change their ways or risk being extinct.
“We talk of reality as something that is socially constructed. We need to create new realities in terms of understanding Covid-19 and try to come up with new ways of thinking. We need to try and convince people that there is a lot of learning and unlearning during this period.
People have to understand that circumstances have changed,” he said. — @nqotshili