On Saturday, Jabulani ‘HHP’ Tsambo was laid to rest at the Heroes Acre section of the Mmabatho cemetery in the North West province.
The week leading up to the funeral saw his court-declared customary wife, Lerato Sengadi, try to stop the service after the rapper’s family said she was not HHP’s wife and did therefore not have any claim to the funeral arrangements.
Though Sengadi lost her bid to stop the funeral, she was victorious in getting the court to declare that she was HHP’s customary wife.
It has become the norm for the public to witness family spats after a celebrity’s passing. Many of these stem from the division of assets and insurance policy payouts. In Sengadi’s case she said she the victory was not just hers, but belonged to “widows who have been marginalised by patriarchal in-laws in moments of grief.”
While Sengadi’s victory nor her cause are at question, many have expressed sadness that family issues such as these are played out in the public space.
In African cultures, and many other cultures across the globe, a period of mourning is observed prior to a funeral. Some even extend the mourning phase for months after the burial.
The days before a person is interred are meant to be a time for families to unite in their shared loss and grief, to discuss the wishes of the deceased and ensure that his or her passage into the unknown realm of death is as smooth as possible.
This is a time traditional rituals to be performed and it’s widely believed that for these rituals to be meaningful and successful, there must be peace and harmony within the home and relatives of the deceased.
Rest in peace, lala ngoxolo, robala ka kgosto – which are the wishes for the deceased to find eternal peace in death. This is the core desire that drives funeral arrangements in Africa – the desire for the deceased to be at peace so they may be a generous ancestor to those left behind.
HHP’s death is not the first case where family matters have been publicly aired. We’ve watched in shock as families air their dirty laundry, fight over possessions and decision-making rights to the extent that legal establishments had to intervene. We’ve been privy to ugly scenes that are far from peaceful and harmonious. And these battles are not only prevalent in instances of celebrity deaths.
I think this points to the need for the return of humility and values of ubuntu, even if that reigns supreme only until after the funeral.
Even Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng channelled African values in his judgement in the Sengadi and Tsambo family matter. Though the judge ruled that Sengadi was HHP’s customary wife, his reliance on ubuntu led the court to deny Sengadi’s interdict to halt funeral arrangements.
Mokgoatlheng mentioned ubuntu repeatedly in his judgement but it seems there was little of that going around from he start.
It might be naive to expect that these disagreements can be put on hold in the face of high emotions and fragile tempers, but it is the African way. And maybe the problem comes from people being selective in when they will observe traditional protocol. Often, it is only when it serves their own agendas that people will remember to be humble and selfless.
It is understandable that insurance policies provide funds to finance funeral services and that discussion opens up almost as the family becomes aware that a member has passed on.
But even then, it cannot be ignored that the memory of the deceased cannot truly be honoured and celebrated in environment that reeks of animosity and division.