Report: A cemetery where silence no longer reigns

CEMETERIES, defined as places where the dead are buried, are usually known as places where silence weighs eternally day and night.

But there is a cemetery in Harare where the dead must stir silently in their earthen graves. Gone here are the days when sunlight filtered through the ancient oaks, casting long shadows that danced with the silent sadness of the mourners. Gone are the days when tombstones, weathered and worn, stood like stoic sentinels, whispering stories of past lives.

Harare’s (pioneer) cemetery has now become a network of paths and resting places for those who do not need care, as it undergoes a chilling transformation. The composure he once maintained has given way to an eerie bustle, the air thick with the hum of conversation rather than occasional silent prayers. Crumbling tombstones, overtaken by weeds, now serve as makeshift seating, while graves, once grand testaments to past lives, have become backdrops for impromptu picnics.

The path that leads to the cemetery is no longer a reverent walk. It’s a bustling street, a shortcut for pedestrians, and a relaxing place for dagga-smoking, meth-snorting ghetto youth. Bluetooth speakers blast hip-hop tunes, their upbeat beats a stark contrast to the venue’s somber purpose.

Laughter mixes with the rustling of leaves, replacing the respectful silence that once reigned when some headed straight to urinate or even defecate behind the tombstones.

The sellers have set up areas to hide their products when they are persecuted by the city council. The aroma of fresh potato chips hangs heavily in the air, an unwanted counterpoint to the stench of filth and decay that eternally embraces the cemetery setting.

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“I go through the cemetery to and from work, there are a lot of intersections created by people who don’t want to use the main roads,” said Tafara Musa, 27, a Glen Norah man who buys and sells second-hand clothes. hand at the Mbare bus terminal, he told NewsDay.

“I usually stop by this place between 7am and 7pm. Everything will continue as usual. Sometimes you might think that some people actually sleep here, Chinotyisa mabhinya kwete nzvimbo yevakafa iyi (the only scary thing about this place is the thieves, not the burial places). But a long time ago, it was so disturbing to hear the news that someone in your neighborhood had died, worse if it was someone close to you, we would spend days inside,” Musa said.

Under the heavy cloak of darkness, groups gather for illicit meetings, fueled by cheap liquor and a morbid sense of excitement. Flickering cell phone lights cast grotesque shadows on tombstones, and drunken laughter echoes from silent graves, a disrespectful serenade for the deceased.

The reasons behind this transformation are complex. Poverty and overcrowding in Harare have pushed people to seek out unconventional leisure spaces. The economic crisis has forced sellers to sell their products wherever there is a potential customer. However, there is a deeper malaise at play, a growing disconnection from tradition and a diminishing respect for the dead.

In an interview, Harare Mayor Jacob Mafume said modern technologies need to be adapted to monitor cemeteries and restore traditions that were once so important to the community.

“Technology has improved. Cameras now cost a dime and a quarter dozen in China. The use of drones can be useful in monitoring council properties and facilities,” Mafume told NewsDay.

“What we might have to do is look for greater cooperation between the city council and the companies that bury people in cemeteries, to see how we can create a perimeter fence and also a surveillance system that allows us to be able to follow what is happening. in the cemeteries. I think we just need to raise awareness and invest a little in modern technologies,” he added.

Meanwhile, the elders shake their heads in dismay.

They remember a time when cemeteries were places of reverence, a solemn ground where grief could flow freely. Now, they watch helplessly as their ancestors’ final resting place is desecrated, piece by piece.

The Harare cemetery is a warning, a haunting reminder of what happens when tradition crumbles and respect erodes. Here the dead no longer rest in peace, their sleep is disturbed by the clamor of a living world that has forgotten its manners.

Veteran talk show host Rebbeca Chisamba said the new generation has developed a lack of respect to the point of taking photographs with the dead during funeral body viewings.

“This thing about taking selfies with the deceased is something associated with sects and very difficult to understand,” said Chisamba.

“I think the way cemeteries are treated in our society today shows a lack of respect. Cemeteries in our ancient culture were very sacred places because we believe it is a place where the dead rest. According to our culture, the dead are to be respected while waiting for what happens next.

“But what is happening today is that people are creating paths to go through cemeteries and do their business, which shows that we have failed as humans. We should go back to the drawing board and start teaching the new generation about the culture associated with death.

“That’s why we call it the last respect, to show that when people die they are given the last respect. A long time ago it was not easy to go through cemeteries, even during the day. Cemeteries were believed to be associated with bad luck and evil spirits, which is why we had so much respect for the dead.

In our African culture, we respect both the dead and the living. Nowadays, even killing a human being is no longer as scary as it used to be. Killing a human being was not as easy as they do it today,” the veteran talk show host told NewsDay.

Another veteran gospel singer and cleric, Charles Charamba, who has grown to become one of the country’s respected musicians, said: “Our society is increasingly impatient with its desire to prosper. Unnecessary pressure is increasing in such a way that people are coming up with unknown ways to achieve success. “Some are becoming overly involved in ritual activities to the point of moderating cemeteries on the recommendation of false prophets and unethically minded traditionalists.”

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