Officially, Botswana, like the rest of the world, is experiencing an unprecedented economic recession but for funeral services companies, it is business as usual.
In Francistown, Zimbabweans are said to be spending more lavishly than ever before.
Doreen Kgakole, who manages Ruth’s Parlour in Francistown, says that her business has not yet felt the impact of the downturn.
“We don’t know how long the situation is going to stay this way but right now, business continues as usual. Customers have always differed in terms of purchasing power and those who can afford expensive coffins still buy them,” she says.
What Kgakole describes also goes for Lesedi Funeral Parlour, which is headquartered in Selebi Phikwe and serves most of the Tswapong areas.
“The recession has not affected us because spending patterns have not changed. Some of our customers make no secret of the fact that they don’t want to buy cheap coffins,” says Lydia Obiditswe, administrator at the group headquarters.
Kgakole has also noticed a new trend among Zimbabweans of buying expensive coffins and caskets. Although its economy has been in a free fall for some years now, Zimbabwe , which is Botswana’s second largest trading partner, has provided a lifeline for Francistown. A majority of Zimbabweans are in dire straits but those not as disadvantaged do shopping in Francistown.
Although Jwaneng has been an early victim of the recession, Sechaba Modise, who runs a mortuary in the township, says that the downturn has not had a direct impact on the funeral services and products they sell.
“Surprisingly, the purchasing power of Batswana has not been eroded,” Modise says.
However, he is well aware of eventualities that may lie ahead. The Debswana mine in Jwaneng is the lifeblood of the township and has been temporarily shut down because its primary markets have been badly affected by the recession. Modise says that workers whose job security is under threat would be inclined “to put everything on hold.”
In instances when a person dies outside their country, funeral homes are ones that repatriate corpses back home. While burying someone in their home country is always the most desirable thing to do, some families elect to bury loved ones in the country where they died to avoid having to pay the prohibitive costs of transporting a corpse across borders.
From what both Kgakole and Obiditswe say, the business of repatriating bodies is going on as usual. On Thursday afternoon, Kgakole said that they were repatriating a body to Zimbabwe. Obiditswe added that on occasion, they repatriate bodies from South Africa.