In March 2017, a Zimbabwean woman died in her home in Strand, Western Cape province, while giving birth to twins. A desperate situation unfolded: She had no savings and no family to provide for the newborn babies. There was also no money to pay for the funeral.

The Zimbabwean community in Strand sought help from the South African government and the babies were placed with the Department of Social Development. The mother was eventually buried in Lwandile Cemetery.

This difficult situation spurred Zimbabweans in the area into organising themselves to help one another with the cost of funerals and the paperwork involved in repatriating bodies back to Zimbabwe.

The high cost of transport

Most Zimbabweans favour burial over cremation. Repatriating a body from Cape Town to Zimbabwe is expensive. Families who are unable to raise the money hold the funeral in South Africa. Funeral insurance policies are available, but not everyone takes one out.

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Some funeral insurance companies specialise in the repatriation of deceased Zimbabweans to their land of birth. These include Doves, with its Zimba-Mzansi and Zororo-Phumulani funeral plans, and the Zimbabwe-based Moonlight Funeral Assurance and Services, with its MFS Insurance funeral cover.

Unemployed builders and painters from Zimbabwe wait on a roadside for work in Cape Town, South Africa, 20 May 2015. Statistics South Africa reports the unemployment rate is around 24 per cent of the labour force in the country. Migrants from African countries join thousands of South Africans who on a daily basis look for part time labour. Some workers report waiting for over three months for even one days work. Unemployment in South Africa is one of the major issues facing government and is an underlying issue fuelling xenophobic tensions. Photo: ANP/ EPA/Nic Bothma

GroundUp called several companies to get quotes for the repatriation of a body by air to Harare. The quotes varied between R12 800 and R15 000. When a body is repatriated by air, a tax of an additional USD450 (nearly R6 000) has to be paid at the airport. This goes to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority. A funeral company must also be available to collect the body.

Another option is to transport the body by road to Johannesburg and then transport it home on Air Zimbabwe.

If the deceased is to be buried outside of Harare, there are additional transport costs, of course.

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The lowest quote that GroundUp received from funeral companies in Cape Town for the transportation by road of a body to Harare was R20 300. This included up to six relatives to accompany the deceased there and back, as well as the deceased’s personal belongings such as clothes. The highest quote we received was R27 750, and this did not include the return fare.

Funeral companies will also take over the burden of completing the necessary documentation.

The paperwork can be burdensome

While the relatives in Zimbabwe wait, family members gather in Cape Town, waiting for the necessary documentation. This usually takes a week and includes the burial order, notice of death, post mortem report, death certificate, embalming certificate, non-infectious disease letter, and a permit from Home Affairs that allows for the repatriation of a body. A clearance letter also needs to be obtained from the Zimbabwean Consulate.

Home Affairs Foreshore. Photo: Tariro Washinyira cover

The South African government has been lenient in cases where an undocumented person dies, but a documented family member must complete the relevant paperwork.

The community’s response

The long delay in laying to rest the Zimbabwean woman in Strand who died in childbirth led to the formation of a group called Brother’s Keeper.

In Mbekweni, near the town of Paarl in the Western Cape, there is a similar initiative. This one is called “Kugara hunzwana nevamwe”, which means “one should be on good terms with the neighbours”. In Masiphumelele, near Cape Town, there is another such scheme, called Khumbulekhaya, which means “remember home”.

Brother’s Keeper currently has 250 members. When there is a death, members contribute towards the cost of repatriation. Typically the organisation can raise R3 000 to R4 000 when someone dies. This helps ease the burden for families. Bruce Taderera, the chairman and one of the founders of the association, said Brother’s Keeper has already helped five families since March.

Nevertheless, even despite this assistance, dealing with death remains expensive and administratively burdensome for Zimbabweans living in Cape Town.

Originally published on GroundUp.