Funeral disruptions amid lockdown ‘unfortunate’

By Maria Kandjungu

POLICE in the two regions on lockdown are finding it difficult to balance the need to allow people to bury their loved-ones in other parts of the country and the need to prevent the coronavirus from spreading to those areas.

Khomas regional commander Commissioner Joseph Shikongo told Confidente that while they sympathise with people who have to go bury their loved-ones, they are forced to limit the number to at least nine people per trip in an effort to contain the risk posed by the virus.

Shikongo also quickly pointed out that Police is however concerned about people using the exemption to exit the regions amid the pandemic lockdown. Consequently, their departments are taking extra precautions to ensure that only those who really need to travel get the permits.

Shikongo was responding to queries regarding complaints that the police were refusing close relatives and sometimes even children of deceased persons to travel out of the two regions, Khomas and Erongo, to bury their parents and family members.
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Among those reportedly turned back over the past few days were six children en route to Onambango in Oshikoto region from Windhoek and Lüderitz to bury their father.
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The six, three from Windhoek and three from Lüderitz were set to travel on Tuesday to Onambango to pay their final respects to their father, Kaarl Amos Kadhingula, who died on Saturday last week.

According to one of the children, he and his two other siblings went to Wanaheda police station in Katutura on Tuesday morning with their father’s death certificate to ask for a travel permit. A police officer at the station told them that they do not issue such permits and since their surnames were the same as that of their father, the death certificate would be sufficient to allow them to travel.

The officer later pointed them to the director at the Katutura State Hospital, who reportedly only issues travel permits to families of people who died in Windhoek. The director recommended that they inquire with the Katutura Police Station. The police there told them the same thing and reassured them that their father’s death certificate was enough and that the siblings would be allowed to travel. The family was however turned back at the Okahandja road block.

Shikongo, who was not aware of the particular case said that could have been just one unfortunate incident as they do allow close relatives to travel, and the police at all stations are aware of this.

“There was a case of 49 people who wanted to travel for a funeral. We told them to reduce the number to include closest relatives. Some people gave us date of departure and no date of return, which to us indicates their intention is simply to leave Windhoek,” Shikongo stated.

He added that the police assess applications on a case by case basis and at times consult other regional commanders to get information of the deceased, and then use their discretion to issue such travel permits.

“It is a matter of balancing because we are concerned about the virus possibly leaving Windhoek to other towns where these people are travelling to. We are concerned especially because of the number of people that left Windhoek before lockdown came into effect. A lot of people left and we still have huge numbers leaving because of funerals.

“Currently we try to limit the number of people in vehicles, and not adhering to that caused problems for many people. We have had situations where people approach us with a death certificate, we issue travel permits, yet a few hours later more people approach us with the same death certificate requesting to travel.”

Similarly, Erongo regional commander Commissioner Andreas Nelumbu said those sent back were normally the ones taking chances.

“We often tell people related to the deceased to observe the social distance to avoid creating another funeral because of this virus. We are very strict in issuing travel permits because we have noticed now that Easter is upon us and many are taking chances to travel.

“Someone, for instance came to us with a death certificate but the deceased is not known to them and the person died a long time ago so there was no need for that person to travel. We have more than 10 people approaching us with the intention to travel but we cannot allow such numbers,” he said, noting that unfortunately family members will have to choose who goes.

Instructions from Cabinet indicate that such permits can now be issued by regional commanders, as well as station commanders. In Windhoek these are issued at the Central Police Station, Otjimuise, Wanaheda, Klein Windhoek and Katutura stations. Other authorities allowed to issue permits are constituency councillors as well as regional health and education directors.