Death in slow motion: Funerals, ritual practice and road danger in South Africa

Lee, Rebekah. 2012. Death in slow motion: Funerals, ritual practice and road danger in South Africa. African Studies, 71(2), pp. 195-211. ISSN 0002-0184 [Article]

No full text available

Abstract or Description

The paper focuses on the development, within the Xhosa-speaking population of South Africa, of intricate cultural practices enacted around fatal road accident sites and en route to funerals. African funeral directors, whose informal enterprises are premised on the lucrative transport of dead bodies and mourners across long distances, attest to the potentially fatal hazards brought on by poor drivers, inebriated mourners and the stresses of overnight travel. Furthermore, apocryphal stories abound—of road accidents involving the corpse in transit, and of road accidents caused by the spirits of those improperly buried—which inscribe a type of malevolent agency onto the dead body, and imbue the sites of fatal accidents with particular significance. Through stories of ‘twice deaths’, I explore how both mourners and funeral entrepreneurs have responded to, and understood, the particular problems presented by death ‘on the road’. I then describe mourners’ emergent language of ‘talking to’ the dead, a banal type of conversing to occurring in mortuaries, at road accident sites and en route to interments, which both expresses and helps contain the spiritual risks embodied in engaging with this more mobile world. I end by considering whether this form of communication represents a distinct departure from, or a continuation of, older forms of mediating with the dead.

Item Type:


Departments, Centres and Research Units:



August 2012Published

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

27 Jun 2013 07:33

Last Modified:

27 Jun 2017 10:26

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


Edit Record Edit Record (login required)