Botswana may not be the most expensive place to live. It is however one of the most expensive places to die.
The coffin, the flowers and hundreds of mouths to feed ÔÇô the actual cost of a funeral day when it eventually arrives, comes at the end of a weeklong galloping spending. A huge number of Batswana are knocked sideways financially for years after what would be considered a normal send off.
Worried at the rising number of residents falling into “funeral poverty” ÔÇô the shortfall between the support available and the cost of a basic funeral – Bakwena Paramount Chief Kgosi Kgari Sechele once summoned his morafe to the main kgotla in Molepolole. At the meeting (held some few years back) Kgari expressed his reservations with the long running tradition of serving food and refreshments at memorial services leading up to funeral day.
He said this presented unnecessary costs to the grieving family, causing even more heartache especially to the underprivileged.
Old habits die hard. Despite a consensus by the morafe, the Kgosi’s advice floundered on the rocks of old habits and the tradition continues to date. Instead they have joined the fast growing national movement aimed at fighting funeral poverty.
A growing number of Batswana are coming together to form burial societies. Through the initiative, groceries are donated to those who have lost a loved one to help cushion against hefty funeral expenses.
In Mogoditshane, a group of residents have come together to form Leotwana burial society.
Lifestyle paid a visit to the village to find out how the initiative works. “We first came across this concept when attending a memorial service in Mochudi,” said Leotwana’s deputy chairperson, Theresa Letlhare.
They observed grocery contributions coming from the local community and enquired about the concept.
“Following enquiries about the initiative we fell in love with the idea and decided to bring it home,” Letlhare said. “Funerals are way too expensive nowadays,” she said, adding, “Death usually comes when people least expect it and at times when there are no funds to cover the costs. Buying a coffin alone is expensive enough.” She said with Leotwana families do not have to worry about grocery expenses.
Letlhare said following their visit to Mochudi they convened a meeting in December 2010 where they successfully sold the idea to community members. “We then invited a representative from Mochudi to come shed some light on the technicalities of the concept.”
The meeting, held at the local kgotla, took place in January 2011 following which all interested parties established the constitution of the Leotwana. “There were 120 interested parties,” Letlhare said. The 120 people were divided into 11 groups consisting 12 members each. Each group elected a leader and assistant who formed the executive committee of Leotwana led by a chairperson and secretary general. The executive committee laid down a written constitution to guide the burial society. Each member would get a copy of the constitution. A member is allowed to register 10 beneficiaries including themselves. “We advise them to register close family members,” Letllhare said. Upon the death of any of the registered beneficiaries members report as soon as possible to their group leader who informs the executive committee. “Following the announcement members are expected to have made their contributions by the end of the next day,” Letlhare explained to Lifestyle. “We then convene at the kgotla where the groceries are collected and logistical arrangements made to deliver the groceries to the bereaved member.”
There is a rota guiding each of the eleven groups on what food items they are expected to purchase. Because they alternate on the type of food stuffs bought, the rota guides members on which food items they are supposed to buy at a given time. The grocery list entails all the necessary food needed for a funeral. All food items come in twelves representing each member of the group.
Senior advisor to the Leotwana, Motsekedi Johnson, was also on hand to explain some of the rules guiding the society.
“Everything we do is guided by the constitution to which all members have signed and vowed to abide.” she said. “We refer to the constitution for guidance where there are differences of opinion.” Johnson said in the five years since inception the society has had its fair share of hiccups and lost some members. “Any member has the right to quit the group at any time they want,” she said. But there are exceptions. Only members who have never benefited groceries from the society are free to go. “Those who have already received contributions are stuck with the society.” If unfortunately a member passes on, the executive committee identifies a close relative to take their place provided they are interested. “But it has also proved to be a challenge because all the people we have selected so far have failed to carry on with the society,” Johnson said. She said the groceries have proved crucial because not only does it cover meals for the entire week leading up to the funeral but enough is usually left to sustain the bereaved family for a relatively long period of time .Goitsemang Ramocha, an elder and also a member of the burial society praised the initiative saying it has relieved many families from the exorbitant costs associated with funerals.
“Just two days following the announcement of the death of a beneficiary, there is already food available to take care of the nutritional needs of the family and mourners.” She said exceptions have been made where an underprivileged member family cannot afford to buy a coffin for the departed. “In that unfortunate situation we ask members to make monetary contributions instead,” Ramocha explained. “If there is change left after purchasing the coffin the money is then used for groceries.” Some of the challenges Leotwana has faced over the years included poor attendance for meetings. “We need them to attend meetings so we can all come up with ways to enhance the society and perhaps make amendments to the constitution,” said Johnson. There have also been logistical challenges that make it difficult to transport food to the family in cases where the deceased lived far from Mogoditshane. But generally the women said it has been a successful five years of Leotwana. They have even passed on their experience and expertise by assisting others in Gabane, Lobatse, and Lejwana village to form their own burial societies. Part of their plans to enhance Leotwana is to officially register as a society in order to negotiate assistance and/or partnerships with the business community in the village.
The concept is catching on, and a number of burial societies built around the concepts are mushrooming throughout Botswana.