Embracing the new normal before breaking into fragments: Understanding the government’s directive on the movement of bodies

By Rev. Fr. Limukani Ndlovu

Zimbabwe’s society should get used to changes brought about by COVID-19. The directive of non-movement of bodies is one thing that people should appreciate as a good measure in fighting the pandemic.

Jesus called for his contemporaries to urgently embrace the new normal in his first proclamation of the kingdom (cf. Mt 3:2; Mk 1:15). His invitation for repentance and total metanoia was not saying his audience should be mere reactionaries, opportunists, and chancers. Some of his audience however, remained stuck in their stubbornness of heart, they kept glued on their poorly reflected traditions and customs, others chose to keep on hanging on their myths and misconceptions (cf. Jn 3:19). However, others left everything and followed Jesus the Master (Mk 1:14-20).

We are faced with the similar situation in what Pope Francis describes in his Apostolic Letter Patris Corde (PC) “during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how our lives are woven together…” Due to COVID 19 and its effects, we are called upon to embrace the new ways of doing business. We are challenged to adopt the new normal. Unfortunately, this call for a paradigm shift is responded to negatively from different quarters. Some people deliberately opt for being dismissive, others leave it to luck and yet still others are sceptics. Maybe learning something from St. Joseph will help us in our nobility to be accepting people (cf. PC#4).

Our traditional cultural values will insist on the need to bury our deceased family members at their ancestral places of birth or at places expressed in our Last Will or Testament. The government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has issued regulations restricting the movement of corpses, or to quote the press statement of January 10, 2021 by the Assistant Commissioner of the ZRP, “Restrictions on the movement of dead bodies for burial in the country”. 

Without exploring the technical legalities about the issue, or interrogating whether or not the democratic processes were followed to arrive at the decision, without addressing my curiosity to the Chiefs’ Council and the various Religious and Christian faith boards to hear their position, let it suffice to say we now need to cope and comply with the government directive. Hence the need to support each other in an effort to embrace this new way of handling our deceased family members. 

A Ndebele proverb goes, akumango ongelathuna literally meaning there is no place where one cannot be buried. We belong to God wherever we may be buried. We belong to God whether we are buried or not (Ez. 16:18; 1Cor 3:23; 1 Jn 4:4). It is a fact beyond any reasonable doubt that the COVID 19 pandemic has and is creating social, political, religious and economic changes here and globally. While the individual’s constitutional rights remain considered fundamental, these same rights may not be absolute and may be affected, limited or suspended especially in such critical times. At least, this time there is no debate about whether Zimbabwe is in a state of crisis or not. In times of dare crisis, the law, custom, tradition may be suspended. 

Any action, any reaction, any decision and choice that safeguards and promotes life and livelihoods, that foster the “common good” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #150-151), protection of human dignity will remain good and acceptable to God (1 Tim 2:3). It is incumbent upon each and every citizen to break the thread of Corona virus transmission. This responsibility is not a matter of law only but it calls for conscience formation. In the same Compendium the Church teaches that it should remain within our rights and freedoms, our duties and responsibilities to be rooted in common nature and people to be responsible and justify public morality (cf. #142).

The position taken by government may seem awkward, not resonating well with our faith, cultural and traditional values, it may sound unpleasant and undesirable and yet we are caught in between choosing two evils. Wrong or unfair methods may be used if the overall goal is good, hence the ethical principle: “The end justifies the means”. We hope and trust that the directive will apply to everybody equally and without favour or fear. 

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