Today we buried our young colleague, Lunga Maqwelane.
We sang and expressed our joy and gratitude for his life at a memorial service on Wednesday.
Today, surrounded by police vans and in a church filled with plain clothed police officers, we held his funeral service.
It was a desperately sad day. As I walked past the open coffin to say my last goodbyes I was devastated to see that I didn’t recognise him. He no longer looked like the Lunga I had known for so long.
As a white middle age woman I had never experienced a funeral in the black community. I’d heard about them, seen a bit on television, but never been to one.
They held a magnificent service for this young man. Prayers, singing, eulogies, dancing, rejoicing, tears – it was all there. It was all so foreign to me, but frankly, quite wonderful. As I watched the older mamma’s dancing in the aisles, I knew that they had seen and experienced decades of heartache, but no matter what they were forced to face, they would always dance and sing and worship with abandon. That really touched me.
I managed to avoid losing the plot right up until the grave was being filled. It struck me then that my little brother, my sweet son, was forever under the earth, never to return. Finally, after forcing myself to be brave all week, the tears finally came.
We ended the day back at his parents house. An integral part of the ceremony was the washing of hands. As we got there we saw little blue buckets and towels laid out. I asked around to try and understand the significance, because we, (the pale faces), don’t generally do it. From what I could understand it comes from the Jewish tradition of washing away the evil.
I knew that in the black African tradition everyone gets fed at a funeral. I didn’t think anything of it until I experienced it for the first time today. They must have fed hundreds of people! I was gobsmacked and immediately went into daft tourist mode! I stood and stared with my mouth hanging open. I just couldn’t believe that a small team, in a small house, pulled that off.
They had hired chairs and canopies to accommodate the crowds which were seated and fed outside. Being Lunga’s colleagues, we were the guests of honour and were seated inside with the immediate family and fed like kings.
White funerals – we’ll give you a cup of tea and buy a few packets of biscuits, maybe a platter of sausage rolls and that’s it! Go home, have a good life.
This was so different.
The richness of their love, the power of their passion, the profound respect they show their elders – it touched me to my core.
Today was a sad day, truly, but somehow, at the end of it, sitting in Lunga’s home, I felt blessed.
LFC For Ever!!!
(Lunga’s fried chicken)