/ 8 January 2015

Urban klevas should respect rural rituals

Nelson Mandela's gravesite in his rural hometown of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
Nelson Mandela's gravesite in his rural hometown of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

Urbanites do not take kindly to the rituals of tribal villages. But those of us living in small towns have the advantage of exposure to the rich rural culture.

Erstwhile villager Moss Motake died after a short illness in my home township of Letlhabile, Brits. It was indeed a revelation when we, the neighbours, travelled to the village of Dinokana, home to the Bahurutshe ba Moiloa chieftainship, for the burial.

Dinokana lies close to the Botswana border, outside the North West town of Zeerust, where goats and vervet monkeys still forage on the hillside, and herdsmen hum in concert with frogs.

The service was conducted by a Lutheran Church clergyman in a tent erected inside the Motake’s homestead. The coffin was carried from the tent and lowered into a grave in a corner of the homestead, known as lesaka (burial kraal), while a family elder recited Motake oral, clan praise poetry.

One could almost touch the peacefulness at the end of it all. No wreaths. No mound of earth. The coffin lay underneath flattened soft earth, alongside the burial sites of others of the Motake clan.

From the family burial kraal the men proceeded to the kgotla, another round kraal built of logs.

The men took their places on wooden benches lining the interior of the structure, to participate in a ceremony known as paka, which, loosely translated, means to “pay tribute”.

At this gathering, certain individuals were required to speak of Motake’s final days. Juluka Montwedi spoke on behalf of us, the Letlhabile neighbours.

Hunger began playing havoc with the township folk, as one village elder after the other spoke at length about how Motake had been a good herdsman.

Finally food was served, after which we left the village for our semi-rural home of Letlhabile.

Now switch to funerals in urban South Africa.

From time to time a family elder from the village was on the programme to give a vote of thanks.

Often the elder takes this opportunity to retrace the final days of the deceased, speaking at length about how the departed one was good with a hand plough, and the agility with which he wielded an axe.

Almost certainly we urban mourners would start grumbling about how hungry we were, and how the moegoe (country bumpkin) must voetsek and stop wasting our damn time.

With this kind of vitriol spewed in his direction, the blushing village elder has no choice but to hastily cut short his long and glowing tribute to a loved one.

We, the township klevas, should give the villagers space to pay tribute to the deceased in the way known to them: to paka, the deep meaning of which we shall never comprehend.

Johnny Masilela is a journalist and author.