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A state of (greater) exception?; funerals, custom and the "war on COVID" in rural South Africa

Source South African Review of Sociology
Authors L. BankN.V. Sharpley
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
Print HSRC Library: shelf number 12845
handle 20.500.11910/20255
In the analysis of the implementation of the lockdown restrictions in South Africa, a great deal has been made of the unequal ways in which middle-class suburban communities, with access to large homes and biomedical support, have experienced the state of exception in comparison to the poor and unemployed in townships and shack areas. What has been less visible so far is the picture that is beginning to emerge from the rural areas and more marginal provinces. In this paper, we argue that when those experiences are carefully analysed, we begin to see that the former homelands were treated as a kind of "third country," a country where custom and tradition posed particular threats and required specialised control and management. Using Giorgio Agamben's notion of a state of exception to frame the discussion, the aim of this paper is to lift the veil from the state's "war on COVID" in these rural areas during the first wave of infection (April to July 2020) and explore the frightening implications of suspended customary rights to cultural dignity, circular migration and social reproduction in these areas. The empirical focus of the paper is on changing funeral practices and burial rites, and how these were impacted by the COVID lockdown restrictions in the rural Eastern Cape Province, with special reference to rural municipalities in the former Transkei.