Traditional leaders in Manicaland have been left seething by the manner in which some victims of Cyclone Idai have been buried — which had seen the interment in some instances of more than one person in a single grave, which is against local cultural practices, the Daily News can report.
This comes as the government has denied that it had sanctioned such mass burials in Chimanimani District, where most of the deaths of the devastating cyclone occurred when it battered Manicaland and some areas in Mashonaland East and Masvingo.
It also comes as Cyclone Idai has so far killed nearly 100 people, with the government expecting the death toll to surpass the horrifying figure of 300 — as search teams are yet to account for hundreds of missing people whose numbers keep rising.
The scale of the cyclone’s devastation has shocked Zimbabweans across the board, who have exhibited rare but much-needed unity during the catastrophe — with individuals, companies and the government joining hands to help the victims of the violent storms.
However, local chiefs said yesterday that while they appreciated the desperation of the situation in Chimanimani, it was wrong for authorities to have buried more than one person in a single grave.
As a result, the chiefs warned, the government could be forced to exhume such bodies to give the victims “decent” burials.
Manicaland Chiefs’ Council chairperson, Chief Makumbe, told the Daily News in an exclusive interview that traditional leaders were “gravely” concerned with the manner in which most of the cyclone victims had been buried.
“We are always mindful of how we bury the dead. This should be our priority as a people, even as we rescue those who are still alive.
“When the situation is calm there may even be need to consider reburials because these burials were hastily done because of the absence of mortuaries in the area due to a lack of electricity,” Makumbe said.
His comments came after about 48 people who lost their lives in the storms in Ngangu Village, in Chimanimani, were buried in pairs — many of them family members.
Makumbe gave the example of a woman who had been buried together with her son, while another traditional leader, Chief Muusha, also said the manner in which the burials had been done was “unprecedented” and a “taboo”.
Muusha added that there was need for cultural rituals to be carried out to “cleanse the graves and cemeteries” where more than one person had been buried in one grave. “That is a taboo and I’m sure that Chief Ngorima, under whose area some of the burials had been done, would have protested the arrangement if he had been there.
“No two people should be put in one grave. Not even as relatives,” Muusha said emphatically.
He also said that local traditional leaders were being sidelined in the management of the disaster, as well as the ongoing search and rescue missions. “We know this is an emergency, but we should not forget who we are even in the face of a disaster. We should be doing rituals which will help those who are missing to be found faster,” Muusha said.
Local Government minister July Moyo, who chairs the Cabinet taskforce on disaster responses, told the Daily News that if there had been incidents of burying multiple bodies in one grave, this had not been sanctioned by the government.
“It is not cultural if it happened,” Moyo said. “The mortuary in Chimanimani had no electricity and together with the other people, the bereaved were able to bury their loved ones. They were communicating with us. “We had heard that they were going to bury them in mass graves and even parliamentarians were asking me questions thinking that we had buried people in mass graves,” Moyo added at a post-Cabinet meeting briefing.
“We heard about it and I gave instructions that nobody should get buried in a mass grave. The youths were mobilised there to dig graves, and we were able to find somebody who gave us coffins.
“What happened is that a mother was buried together with the child. To me that could have only been the decision of the family, not us as government because we discourage people being buried in mass graves,” he said further.
Zimbabwe was battered by Cyclone Idai at the weekend — which left a trail of destruction which saw bridges, schools, roads and livestock being swept away by powerful rains, especially in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.
The government has since declared the devastating cyclone a natural disaster. On Monday, authorities also announced that Treasury had released $50 million towards helping victims of the tropical storms and the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, which include roads, bridges and schools.
Dozens of companies have also joined the government and relief workers in supporting victims of the violent storms, while ordinary people and churches have been mobilising resources to complement the work of the government and the business community.
Meanwhile, an emotional former deputy prime minister during the short-lived but stability-inducing inclusive government, Arthur Mutambara, applauded Zimbabweans on social media for joining hands to assist the victims of the cyclone.
“Thanks to all Zimbabweans for working together across the board in confronting this natural disaster, Cyclone Idai. “This is how it should be. Team Zimbabwe spirit and approach. This catastrophe demands resolve, unity and leadership. The struggle continues,” Mutambara said on Facebook.
Apart from killing people and destroying key infrastructure, Cyclone Idai has also cut off water supplies to thousands of people in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces.Traumatised villagers in these areas have said the latest disaster was possibly the worst the had experienced in living memory, saying its ferocity was much bigger than that of Cyclone Eline in 2000.