By Siphelele Khumalo
Someday in October a year ago, I attended the funeral of an elderly person at my neighbour’s place. It happened that I had already known this old person for almost five years. This was a time when I was still in secondary school – naive, full of passion for everything (both good and bad) and all such stuff which comes with the stage or age.
From my numerous engagements with this old person, who is a contemporary of my grandmother osadla anhlavana (meaning still alive), she taught me a lot; from morals to ethics, culture to religion, love to peace, and so on. Interestingly enough, it was her ability to always place God wherever love and peace lay. Concurrently, she would picture God as being troubled when love and peace never seemed to find an expression. Now, this was possible because elderly people have lived up to their ‘God-given’ (as she used to say) role of being mobile, living libraries. This alone speaks volumes to the oral tradition of African philosophy which centred itself on passing knowledge from generation to generation, ad infinitum.
After the funeral had ended, I left for home, which happens to be a minute away from my neighbour’s place. The funeral went well and the grandmother had a wonderful send-off – one full of dignity and respect. The Word of God was unleashed upon the grave so to accompany her on her newly undertook path to Heavens. This was as per the manual guide of those who ascribe to the Christian religion, which tells of the aesthetics of eternal life in Heavens. In other words, this referred to the City of God, where pavements are made of gold and lighting that runs ceaselessly.
Later on that day, I thought of how grateful she might be for having lived to an elderly age such as her’s. This was something that really seemed uncertain for me and my contemporaries, not excluding generations to come after my generation. It was, as one of this country’s greatest philosophers had recorded, a miracle to reach adulthood in the townships. Well, South Africa is a township in its entirety. To be black means to assume the mode of township-like life with all its hellish realities and absurdities.
Before I could think more of this experience, tiredness had got the best of me and I dozed off within seconds. Early in the morning, I woke up and, upon a long gaze to the grave of my neighbour’s fallen tree, I saw something that caught my eye and wrestled with my mind in an unsettling way. The grave was now marked by a black Cross on top of it – a Cross as per the Judeo-Christian tradition symbolic of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Without doubt, the old lady had been a Christian all her life and loved God with all her heart. I can recall in my early days when I was still in sixth grade, at her home, I had a fight with a cousin my age in her presence and she told us in a calm voice of God’s disapproval of fighting among families. She had said that instead of fighting, we should always protect one another and praise God for gracing us with our lives. And she won or God won, if not both when subsequently the fight ended.
On the day that I realized the existence of the Cross on the grave, a question arose in my mind. ‘What will happen to me when I die?’ Of course, if I die, there is nothing that I will be able to do or change. But what if there is a Cross placed on top of my grave on the exact same side where my head will be? I could not shake off this unsettling thought that troubled my soul but neither could I give in to accepting the unknown. The placing of the Cross would be symbolic of my faith in the religion but that does not hold true. I am not certain where I stand. I do not know. Maybe God knows but I do not. Here is a quick reaction that resulted from the thought on the day:
“No Cross on my grave. No verse opening nor closing my obituary”
Unmoved was my mind on the position. I had to say it aloud in my mind but perhaps it was not said loud enough. Maybe it needed to be written on more pieces of paper and be thrown to every corner of my home. This must be done so my family does not forget to open my obituary with a Revelation 21:1 without being troubled by the hundreds of years late “New Jerusalem” for black people.
“No Cross On My Grave” shall become the title of a new song I am writing and am about to make available for listening. This is as if death does not outstrip the arrival of the New Jerusalem for Black people and take me away from my people to a land where I’m not certain if black people have access to or not. In other words, I mean the land that is made of gold pavements and graced with lighting that runs ceaselessly. I pray for the Cross to break and burn to ashes if placed against my wishes. If verses are opened against my will, they shall catch the wind and be blown away.
Sphelele Khumalo is a young black man in his mid-20’s. He identifies with the political block that seeks to do away with all that’s left of colonialism in South Africa and Africa in extension. He spends most of his time reading African literature, ranging from decolonial thought to black liberation theology. Currently, he lives in his hometown, Mtubatuba and is enrolled with UNISA for BA Studies majoring in Philosophy and Politics.
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