The chaos that shadows deaths robs us of peacefully mourning

30 October 2018 - 10:43 By Odwa Mjo
The passing of a public figure is often clouded by controversy.
The passing of a public figure is often clouded by controversy.
Image: Pexels.com

Death is a sensitive topic, no one is ever prepared for it.You think about the lives that the person had touched and the trauma that their loved ones are going through. The passing of someone takes an emotional and mental toll on those closest to them.

The other toll that no one is prepared for is the often chaotic disputes about who the deceased belonged to and who mattered the most -  financially and emotionally -  in their lives. 

In South Africa, we often see a crisis emerge when a well-known figure dies. The first few days are somber and every media platform is flooded with tributes. It's a period of mourning when family,friends and supporters share their most memorable moments in an attempt to console broken hearts.

On the other end of the spectrum, one can't help but anticipate the storm. In just a few days, news about family disputes,love triangles and ownership shadow the entire process of mourning. 

In the midst of all the chaos, we often turn away from the initial matter at hand. We become fixated on all the revelations and accusations that follow the person's death. Revelations and accusations that tear apart families and, sometimes, make us question the kind of life the deceased had lived.

For the loved ones involved in the disputes, media becomes their first place to run to. Numerous headlines expose confidential information as those left behind scramble over who has the right to claim ownership of the deceased and their assets.

Taking into account the cultural and religious aspects of many South African families, tensions and squabbles about who has the right to mourn, who has the right to bury the deceased and who is entitled to the assets, is often a never ending war.

When Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa died in 2015, his father publicly expressed that Senzo's then partner Kelly Khumalo was not welcome at the funeral as they did not view her as a member of the family. That was followed by massive public scrutiny, accusations and cyberbullying towards the singer. 

For public figures, this unpleasantly plays out in the media and changes the narrative about the death of well known people. On Tuesday, Sowetan reported that the family of the late rapper HHP had rejected suggestions that publicist Lerato Sengadi was his wife.

As soon as we hear about the news, we inevitably expect things to get worse as the family prepares to bury them. We move from tributes and memorials to battlefields.

No one is immune to family matters. But when they become the focal point of any bereavement, it robs us from peacefully mourning and celebrating the life of someone who touched many.

Odwa Mjo is a TimesLIVE journalist