African Union (AU) Special Envoy for COVID-19 and businessman Strive Masiyiwa has called on community leaders – including chiefs, religious leaders, councillors and members of Parliament – to lead in arresting the spread of COVID-19 at the local level.
A dear friend called me the other day quite distressed because his brother’s wife had just died, and he and his immediate family were trying to decide whether to attend the funeral or not.
My advice was simple and honest: “Funerals are what are known as ‘Covid Superspreaders’. If you want to go to more funerals, then keep attending Funeral Wakes (traditional gatherings that take place when someone dies).
“I know it is our tradition to attend funeral wakes, but that is one tradition we just have to suspend for now. Next year we can have beautiful funeral services for anyone who dies now.”
My friend was so distraught. Then I reminded him what Jesus Christ had said about upholding traditions that stifle progress.
Then he called his brother and they had a terrible row, initially. But he stuck to his guns, until his brother relented. They then called their relatives and told them there would be no Funeral Wake (no gatherings at the house). A small hand-picked group of relatives, made up of fit young people, would handle the burial and they would then self-isolate together for two weeks.
Now is that disrespecting the dead? No!
What greater disrespect can there be than to have others die in order to bury them?
There is nothing that says a tradition cannot be set aside, or suspended, if it is a threat to public health or progress in society.
Chiefs, Pastors, local politicians, community leaders can help arrest the spread of this disease by providing leadership on something like this. They can reassure people that during times of war (and this is a war) we often have to suspend some traditions.
The spread of Ebola in West Africa was only truly stopped in 2014, when we realized that funerals were acting as “Superspreading events” and we reached out to local leaders who acted quickly.
If you are a local councillor, Member of Parliament, Pastor, Imam, chief – it’s time to lead.
And this is were we start.