Visit to Siya’s funeral

Yesterday I went to a funeral. Saturdays might as well be set aside for community funeral day where I live.

There is context to that though, but today we are not going to talk about it. Besides these days other people do bury during the week.

Today we are talking about a funeral of a young man.

Death of young men and women is not something uncommon where I live. Actually when an elderly person dies, when I say elderly I mean sixty year olds. When that happens, people give a sigh of relief. You will hear them saying ‘at least he was old’.

This caught me by surprise too when my uncle who was fifty six died of heart attack two years ago. I told my colleagues. When they were comforting me they asked his age, I told them. In unison they said, at least he was old. Yes in the age of premature deaths fifty six is old. I don’t know about age but it was still painful, for me and my family to lose someone as generous as my uncle.

Remind me to tell you more about him, my uncle soon.

Today it is about Siyamthanda (we love him), I told you names mean what they say in my language. He was called Siya to shorten it. Everybody’s name is shorten as a sign of affection in our communities. If it is short then it is made long, just because.

I think it is at that funeral that the underneath meaning in the ‘at least he was old’ comment was verbalized. Done by the preacher.

I did not know Siya that well, but my mother knows his mother, they do not go to the same church but they meet at funerals, we have plenty of those. I think it is in job descriptions of church mothers to go to all funerals and prayers of comforting the bereaved. These prayers take place everyday in the evenings in the home of the deceased until the funeral day.

Siya’s home is in the same street with my aunt, this to us constitute a neighbor. I guess that is enough reason to attend a funeral. Besides that though, my mother is elderly so she needs to be driven to places. I find myself in funerals of people I do not know because I have to be there for her and her church friends.

Siya, I heard speaker that spoke about him, was a fun loving young man. He was loved by his mother dearly and his three siblings loved him more because of that. He lost his father Hippo in October last year. He was called that because he was fat growing up. Everyone thought Hippo would die from the diabetes he suffered from all his entire life. But as fate had it, Hippo was hit by a mini bus taxi. He died on the spot.

In December there was another funeral at Siya mother’s house. His uncle and cousin who lived in the house outside in their yard were crashed in front of that busy street. One by a bus and the other by a truck on the same day. The cousin heard his father was hit, he ran to rescue, he did not look around, a slow moving truck hit him. I heard he could have survived the crash if the truck did not pull and drag him on the road.

In February, Siya’s mother Nomthandazo (mother of prayer) was also involved in an accident, but she survived.

With how this story is moving, I do not need to tell you how Siya died.

But I will anyway. Last weekend, after a nice beach party, Siya and his friends were driving back home. On their way back they pulled the car out of the road. Young man went to pee in the bushes near the road and other took out the left over booze in the car boot. Siya was among the man who went to the bush. On his way back, in front of his friends, a truck scooped him and threw his tiny strong body off the road. He died in that spot.

His mother Nomthandazo and his siblings were having a lazy Sunday afternoon when police pulled in their drive way and told them the bad news.

You see in our communities once tragedy strikes twice or thrice the same way, people start thinking it is either a cry from God, or wrath of the ancestors. If not, it must be Witches who are either your relatives or neighbours being jealous of your family material acquisitions.

So older people start throwing hints that the family needs to do something. Either go to church to appeal to God in prayer or throw some sort of ancestral cleansing to make amends with the dead. If not that, they need to go to sangoma to know who exactly is bewitching them.

The funeral took place at the African Episcopal Church. It was a full church. Others stood outside. This is how funerals get in our communities. Not everyone can fit into a church. The young people wait and listen from outside the church.

This is what caught me in that funeral, the preacher. He said, ‘At least it was not AIDS,”. I looked at my mother who did not even flinch. There was no reaction in a church full of so many people. At least it was not Aids? So it did not matter that he died, as long as it was not from Aids.

It did not matter that a mother was grieving a beautiful life, a lastborn son she so loved that she called him WE LOVE HIM. The pain of a parent burying her own child was ok as long as the death was not caused by Aids. I just could not sit still. I saw mothers looking at the preacher with no expression like my own mother. I wanted to shake all of them and ask why.

But I sat, like them, still. I looked up at the pulpit, he was still there talking although I heard nothing. I calmed myself and decided to listen again, maybe I heard wrong. ‘You know what that means, it means your child was pure. Never promiscuous or gay. He lived a clean life. He will enter heaven’. I turned and said to my mom, I am leaving, I was going to wait in the car. She shushed me. After those words I heard nothing else. I was angry. People did not find this wrong at any level. Is this 1985?

When the preacher finished talking he asked one of the mothers to pray. It is customary in our churches for mothers to pray after the sermon. One of the mothers knelt with a song. The congregation knew the song I did not. So one of them gave me a hymn book. The first verse translates lightly as ‘Yes Lord I come, even though I am nothing but I come’. The mother in her prayer echoing the words of the hymn ‘ Yes Lord I come because you love us as we are. Aids or pure you love us still. Promiscuous or virgins yet you love us exactly the way we are’.

We are grateful for our children even if they have Aids because they are ours. They live and love us even when we talk about what we know nothing about as if we went to school for it, yet they forgive us. We are grateful because they live. As you know father mine has been living for sixteen years with Aids but she is still as beautiful, healthy and happy because she knows it is not a disgrace.

She works to provide food for me and my other children. She will not die before me because you did not condemn her. No matter how many times the world and the church we are in to praise your name condemns her and all those living with Aids, she will not be what they say she is.

She will enter heaven faster than people who preach condemnation instead of hope and love. Thank you God for your word because it tells us never to judge because judgment we pass will be used to judge us. May Siya’s mother find comfort in knowing that her son was kind and giving not to fallacy of not dying from Aids because, as our fathers before us taught us, there is one death and that is lying on your back. It does not matter the reason.

At this point my mother and the other mothers are shouting haleluya’s and all sorts of things said when this kind of prayer is said.

I whispered in her ear and said but you were quiet with no reaction when the big preacher was telling you all about how disgraceful Aids is. When one is telling bad stuff about your God, it is best not to answer them, rather tell God about them, if he can hear you while you are reporting him to God, then that’s a bonus. This is not a first time we come to this kind of church. All mothers in all churches agreed to respond in this manner when such things are said. Because to respond when someone is in the pulpit will not make you better than what they are saying. So we always wait our turn. I knew a mother will pray and respond, we wait our place and time. She said.

Nomthandazo, Siya’s mother was not dressed in black as it is customary when one buries their son, she was dressed in red. Very bright red. We all frowned at her choice of colour. Other people said she is a twin. Twins are exempted in most of the rituals that people go through. Regarded as special.

When her first born son rose to say a word of gratitude to all who came as it was customary. He explained why his mother dressed in red.

‘You all know my mother is a twin, so she is exempted in wearing black clothes, but she can wear any other mourning colour like purple or mauve, but she chose red, which is not a mourning colour. She did it to symbolize that Siya was living with Aids. She wished her son was killed by Aids rather, because she would have had an opportunity to nurse him, to have hope, to give him medicine and comfort him through pain. The accident is not better than any death.

I went out there feeling both sad and happy. Mostly sad because Siya did not deserve to die and her mother did not deserve burying four people in her house within six months because of car accidents or any reason for that matter.

I was happy that the preacher was ignorant so that a brave woman can talk to God about him in his presence when everyone was listening. Leaving that church hall what I knew about our mothers and Siya’s mother was reinforced that our mothers are humble but never weak. They are quiet but have an opinion and at a right time they voice it whether to God or the righteous.

I love our mothers, my own mother included. Mothers of prayer in all our community churches because when they meet, they pray for all of us and once Nomthandazo heals her wounds, she will know exactly what to do about the accidents that are tragically robbing her of the loved ones.

For now, she is mourning in bright red colours to prove that it will not be Aids or any accident that will bring her family down.

After we came back from the cemetery, as it was customary I went to her to say how sorry I was about her loss. Of course I was accompanying my mother, just a step behind her I heard Siya’s mother saying to her ‘’one prayer at a time we will change the mentality of the ignorant, one strong voice will shush all the loud ignorant clutter’’. My mom nodded and said, ‘do grieve your son, cry when you miss him and laugh if you think of good times. Never say he was your son, because he still is, he will always be and if anyone says his name was Siya tell them it still is, even if he is cold but his name remains. For now forget about the rude and ignorant, as you say we will deal with them one prayer at a time.

With that she kissed her on the cheeks and the only words I could utter to her were ‘I am so sorry’

Written By: Namhla Mbunge

Living life with LOVE – a story.

Let me tell you a story, only that it is not a story. It is a life lived.

That life is that of Nothobile, and it is called LOVE.

In her language names are everyday use words. So if one says Nothobile, they are saying mother of humility.

She got this name because she got married, all women are given new first names when they get married in her culture. Change of first name is equivalent to a marriage certificate. Burning of women clothes to symbolize entering a new stage is one of the customs in her culture.

Her life was blessed because she lives to be 72 years next August, born in August 1944. A traditional woman all her life. Her husband was chosen for her. Her name changed. Her clothes burned down.

Two nights after she was kidnapped into marriage, her husband was revealed. Not a bad looking man, but still not her type if she had a say on the matter.

They made love that night, which felt more like a rape, but who is she to complain. She is mother of humility, remember?

So she never had many children, just one. A boy, Luthando (it is love). Name given by her mother inlaw. Everytime she called at him she wondered what love had to do with anything, not realizing her life is a love personified. Yet she grew to accept her life. At some point she loved it and forgot all the hard parts.

After the first night as husband and wife, the husband left to Johannesburg for work. He was to leave for two years working in gold mines. The expectation was that she would have been pregnant on the night she met the husband so she could have something to keep herself busy with until the next visit of the husband to make another baby.

This was the life for everyone then, so yes she was, but that was her only child ever.

Living with her in-laws, she helped raise the children of the extended family whose parents perished due to political persecution or just died. At least eight of those children became hers.

One such was Nomnikelo (Offering), a biological daughter of the sister in law who vanished to the city to look for work but never came back.

When Nomnikelo grew to be a drunk and prostitute Nothobile could not understand how it happened since she raised her with love, and when Nomnikelo died in prison she was devastated but found solace in the life she left behind. This life was Ntando (Will), a beautiful girl that she took in and raised with love as if it was her own grandmother.

Her husband said she was over compensating for Nomnikelo’s failures, but Nothobile love Ntando even more.

Nothobile beamed with pride when Ntando finished high school. She became what Nomnikelo could not become. Ntando was her proof that unconditional love can change a person’s destiny.

She poured this love by taking all her retirement money that she received after years of scrubbing school floors and making tea for teachers to further Ntando education.

Ntando studied computer sciences, but she never came back with the certificate. Instead she did what her mother did before her, she poured herself into alcoholism and prostitution. In one year she had two children both with two different man that she never named.

When her last child was born, Ntando gave birth in the family bathroom, Nothobile found her suffocating the newborn baby on a floor full of blood. She grabbed the newborn and called an ambulance. On the way to hospital Ntando died. She died of complications relating to AIDS because even if she did not say it, everyone knew she was dying and no matter how she tried hiding the pregnancy or the AIDS it was just there.

With her bare hands, Nothobile helped with after birth and securing the newborn. Today that newborn is nine year old and the most beautiful boy called Simnikiwe (He has been given to us).

Nothobile is a grown woman now, she no longer has the physical strength she had when Nomnikelo or Ntando were born. Simnikiwe is her great grandchild but she has to take care of him the same way she took care of his mom and grandmom. Her husband is sick, old age and working in the mines all those years. He is bed ridden. Nothobille is the one taking care of him.

She has buried all the children she raised, and the last burial was of Luthando her biological child, he became a teacher and Union activist you know. I met him through my work as a social activist.

In that funeral, Simnikiwe sat next to her. They looked at each other as if to ask whose next?  Simnikiwe had many siblings but he is the only survivor. They died of AIDS.

Nothobile rose to talk, which is something that is frowned upon in her culture to talk on her child’s funeral, but she rose. She cared less about culture and protocols, because what have they ever done for her.

She is seventy two years old and she has a nine year old calling her mama, because no matter how many time she said he must call her grandma, Simnikiwe never changes. He just called her mama. She looked at the full hall and said ‘ well it looks like Job was telling the truth, I came naked and I will leave this earth naked. What Job did not know is that I do not mind. I lived and I loved and what is there to be ashamed of in nakedness in death. Yes I will leave naked, and fulfilled because I lived like any other woman of my time.

I am not the only one, no exception to the rule. Every woman I know raised their inlaws unwanted children, some of them grew up to be successful people but most like me were not so lucky. Nature was stronger than nurture in ours. We cannot claim we did not know what we got ourselves into. We knew because even raising your own child is not a guaranteed for success.

So after burying everyone else, people say I bury my own flesh today. What they don’t know is that Nomnikelo and all the others were my flesh too. Bones of my bones because love made them that way. I bury Luthando not because of AIDS, but because of ignorance.

If anyone thinks, because I contracted HIV/AIDS through nursing my children I am going to die soon, they might as well bury me now because that is ignorance. I am not ignorant. Ignorance is not going to take me down. I tell you all silence kills a nation. That is not going to kill me because I have a doctor to raise’

She looked at Simnnikiwe and she said ‘yes he is going to be doctor, astronaut, pilot or a soldier whatever he wishes to be because he is mine, love made him mine, mine he is and never again will I bury my children through ignorance. The buck stops here. It almost did not stop, but it did. No more.

Written By: Namhla Mbunge