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Death Expense in Zimbabwe Becoming Priority as Economic Hardship Increases


Many Zimbabweans say are putting aside savings to pay for death expenses as economic distress intensifies, hunger grows and more succumb to disease. Some Bulawayo residents say paying monthly subscriptions to burial societies is more important to them than paying rent or buying food. From Bulawayo, Netsai Mlilo reports that traditionally when death strikes relatives, friends and neighbors ofthe deceased are expected to contribute, to help bury their departed acquaintance.

But this is considered no longer a popular option, because of death becoming an increasingly common occurrence, and many families' depleted coffers. It's not only cash-strapped unemployed Zimbabweans who're seeking alternatives. Some employed Bulawayo residents say they, too, are joining burial societies even though they can afford funeral policies. In the event of the death of either a memberor a registered relative, burial societies give families money to cover funeral costs. In turn, members are expected to attend wakes and offer emotional support to colleagues.

Janet Mahlala, who lives in Gwabalanda, says she's proud of the fact that she andher family are “fully covered for death." She boasts of being a member of 6 burial societies. Mahlala explains she had to join so many groups to cover herselfagainst rising funeral costs. Aside from paying monthly subscriptions, Mahlala saysshe also attends monthly meetings where each society's accounts are updated. She says she's able to attend the different groups' meetings because dates usually vary.

Mahlala says things become tricky when more than 1 member dies at the same time. She acknowledges that while the monthly contributions are minimal; she struggles to pay. As result she sometimes skimps on her family's meals. She says, "It's better to miss meals like breakfast and pay up your burial society subscriptions. It makes it easy when there is a death in the family."

Mahlala says she doesn't mind making such a sacrifice, because she doesn't want to endure additional suffering when one of her loved ones passes away. Her fears are considered understandable, given the fact that increasing numbers of Zimbabwean families are battling to bury their relatives. As result, bodies have been pilingup in mortuaries, compelling the state to offer a pauper's burial.

She adds she currently pays a total of 10-thousand dollars to all 6 societies. In return, she says she expects to receive at least 1 million dollars if she's bereaved. Workers who have funeral policies are also joining burial societies. Kudzai Kwangwari says although his family has funeral coverage, he's joined a burial society in his neighbourhood: "It's one of the ways that most Zimbabweans can use to bury their loved ones because the economy is difficult. Funerals happen when you are not expecting them so that makes it easier for you to have resources to deal with the situation."

But Kwangwari has one major complaint; he says he's not happy with the way burial societies are becoming increasingly commercialized by helping only paid-up members. He says this kills the spirit of spontaneously assisting neighbors in distress. Additionally, he argues it's not right to pay societies' subscription fees when a relative is ill, and hungry, at home.

Some burial societies are broadening their mandate to include home-based care, as the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic spreads. Mahlala says one of the burial societies she belongs to takes care of ill members, "We don't have a problem taking care of sick members. We go as burial society members to bathe, do laundry, clean the house and cook porridge and make sure the member eats. We take turns to go and care for sick members. “

Mahlala and other unemployed residents like her say for the time being burial societies offer value for money during death.

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