DURBAN, South Africa – Betraying no sign of emotion, Ayanda Jileka emerges from the ruins of his family home in South Africa with some wood that he drops into two small holes at the gate.
The wood will be used to burn two sacrificial goats as part of funeral rites for victims of flooding that has devastated the southeastern KwaZulu-Natal province and killed 435 people to date.
KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said the disaster had affected more than 17,000 households, made over 6,000 people homeless and injured 55.
More than 50 people are still missing and residents still lack access to drinkable water after a week of torrential rain destroyed infrastructure and upended lives around the Indian Ocean port city of Durban.
Ayanda, 19, is one of two survivors of a horrific incident that claimed the lives of five members of the royal Zulu Jileka family on the night of April 12 in the rural town of KaMoya near Durban.
He was sleeping in a rondavel, a traditional round home, when it collapsed under the weight of the deluge and floodwater swept him away.
A few moments later, the bedroom in the neighbouring family house also collapsed on Princess Bonakele Jileka and four children aged between two and 12.
Ayanda miraculously survived, but all five of his relatives died at the scene.
Burning two goats is a ritual performed to welcome the bodies and cleanse the home when there has been a death in the family.
The goats are slaughtered, put in the hole and burned before bodies can pass the gate.
“That serves the dual purpose of welcoming the bodies home and also cleans the family of the bad luck,” Ayanda told AFP.
The five coffins, covered in cloth and white flowers, were then admitted at the gate and taken to a tent, passing the sorrowful family and neighbours.
The burials could not take place immediately due to the waterlogged ground.
Debris and clothes caught up in mudslides still litter the surrounding area, while a collapsed railway line has ploughed into the humid earth.
“As much as we’ve known of their passing for more than a week now, seeing all their bodies like this feels like a fresh wound in our hearts,” said family spokesperson Landile Jileka.
Next came the funeral, where more than 200 mourners – still in disbelief almost two weeks since that fateful night – descended on the Church of the Holy Ghost to pay their final respects.
The eulogies from friends, neighbours and family of Bonakele praised a person who knew what she wanted and was down to earth.
“She once told me that since she didn’t come to the church for a wedding then she would like to come here on her last day,” said her friend Nokuphiwa Mlambo.
Joining the mourners were KwaZulu-Natal premier Zikalala and Queen Nompumelelo Mchiza, the fifth wife of the late Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.
Zikalala said the province will forever mourn the dark days of April 11 and 12, calling the flooding “the greatest disaster in the life of our country”.
He announced the postponement of the province’s Freedom Day celebrations, which commemorate South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections, and the coronation of the next Zulu king.
“We cannot celebrate while the province is crying. For us this is a time (to) mourn,” he said. – AFP