The Sunday Mail
Midlands Bureau Chief
DEATH and planning a burial have a tendency of bringing out the best and worst in people.
But whatever the case, the dead should always be treated with respect and a proper burial.
The Government, through the Department of Social Welfare, affords unclaimed bodies a pauper’s burial as a way of safeguarding the dignity of individuals even in death.
Unfortunately for Chipo Sigudhu who died on January 6, 2017, her right to a dignified burial has been infringed upon as her remains lie unclaimed in a mortuary at Gokwe South District Hospital.
The hospital administrator, Ms Claire Katiyo, confirmed that Sigudhu’s body has been in the mortuary for over three years.
Within that inordinately long period, it has been affected by prolonged periods of power outages and, according to Katiyo, has since been whittled into a skeleton that can fit in a small plastic bag.
The late Sigudhu, who is survived by three children, has not been buried because her relatives and her husband Patrick Chikombingo bicker over unpaid lobola/roora.
The Sunday Mail traced Chikombingo to his workstation — a place called Durawall, Sasane 1 in Gokwe — where he produces peanut butter using a home-made machine.
The 48-year-old seemed unfazed by the presence of this reporter in the company of Gokwe South District Social Development Officer Mr Elastas Chihwehwete.
When the subject of his unclaimed dead wife’s remains was broached, Chikombingo claimed that he had tried his best to have Sigudhu buried to no avail.
He said greed on the part of Sigudhu’s relatives saw all parties abandon her remains from January 2017 to this day.
“Mai Ruvimbo died after we had separated. But because we have three children together, I was looking after her while she was in hospital and when she died, I contacted her mother, who then informed her relatives. They came for the funeral and some of her relatives started accusing me of not having finished paying roora.
“It is unfortunate that she came from a broken family and had uncles and grandfathers all claiming a share of her bride price. That saw some receiving money and others failing to. But it wasn’t my place to state who gets what since I was a son-in-law,” he narrated.
Chikombingo said he tried to give them his vehicle back then but they further quarrelled among themselves causing the negotiations to breakdown.
“Mai Ruvimbo’s relatives fought over the car given to settle the bride price since I didn’t have any extra cash at that time. Some took the children and I reported the matter to the police and I was given custody of them. That was the last time I heard from the relatives and I have tried to make contact with them to no avail,” he said.
Currently, he is staying with his children and says he has no intentions of remarrying.
The Department of Social Welfare, he added, can bury the remains of his wife if they so wish since he is no longer a part of it.
He has severed all contact with his late wife’s relatives.
His mother-in-law is believed to have relocated to Chivhu from Mazowe.
According to Mr Chihwehwete, it appears it will be sometime before Sigudhu is buried because his department cannot inter Sigudhu’s remains as long as there are traceable relatives.
“We are concerned about this matter and we want to get to the bottom of it. It’s not right to have someone’s remains decompose before one is buried. So we will try to trace this mother-in-law in Chivhu.”
Ms Katiyo, the administrator at Gokwe District Hospital, revealed that the mortuary has five unclaimed bodies, including that of Sigudhu.
“The other four will soon get paupers’ burials. Paperwork has begun. But that’s not the case with Chipo. Social welfare is refusing to assist, saying she has relatives who should claim her remains,” she said.
According to a judgement by Justice Joseph Mafusire in Mhindu (nee Ncube) Machokoto & Another (HH 399-16 HC 6365/16) (2016) ZWHHC 399 (05 July 2016), under African culture, remains of a deceased family member can only be interred by his/her own people.
The decision has to be a collective family resolution that involves the surviving spouse and the broader family of the deceased.
Chief Njelele of Njelele area in Gokwe North in which Sasane 1 falls, said under customary law, one cannot pay lobola for a deceased wife but can be made to pay compensation for the kids the union was blessed with.
He said Sigudhu’s relatives had no right to demand roora after her death and worse refusing to bury her remains.
The chief said he was not officially requested to deal with the matter and because of that, it was now over three years since the passing on of Sigudhu.
Such occurrences, he said, real as they might be, were an abomination which can be blamed for lack of rains in the country, adding that whatever the cause of death, be it murder or natural causes, a dead person deserves proper burial.
Chief Njelele said traditional and conventional courts of law were there to resolve any squabbles or challenges that might be faced by families so that the dead are buried and the guilty brought to justice.
“In such circumstances, it is important to consult so that decisions made do not backfire. Bride price is not a way or route to amassing wealth. This is upsetting and we blame such things on the droughts we are facing. People must respect culture, be it Christianity or whatever,” said Chief Njelele.
He said he would meet up with chiefs in Chivhu to identify Chipo’s relatives and ensure proper burial is conducted.
“Just imagine what the children are feeling right now. The thought of having their mother’s remains in a mortuary while they continue living like it’s normal. Even Chikombingo, what if he wants to get married? With his wife’s remains in a mortuary it will be taboo,” said Chief Njelele.
Mortuary attendant Mr Fortunate Muraga, who has witnessed disputes that lead to abandonment of the dead at the mortuary, said Chipo’s remains were still wrapped in a blanket.
“It makes my job difficult you know. This is a small mortuary with a holding capacity of six. Due to unclaimed bodies like this one, it gets crowded. To make matters worse, this mortuary often malfunctions and bodies rot,” said Mr Muraga.
According to Mr Chihwehwete, until May this year, the same mortuary held remains of Nkosana Moyo of Chitekete Village in Gokwe North, whose remains had not been buried for seven years.
Moyo was allegedly shot by members of the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in a case of mistaken identity. Rangers thought they had shot his brother, a suspected poacher.
The mortuary has become somewhat notorious for such cases. Yet another body, that of Moses Chokuda was dumped at the mortuary for over three years as his relatives fought with the then former Midlands Governor Jason Machaya’s family.