The final journey of Charles Bukeko, popularly known as Papa Shirandula, was scripted to break the hearts of those who held him dear.
Bukeko died on Saturday morning at a Nairobi hospital a few days after he tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
A few minutes past 3pm on Sunday, the tightly sealed casket bearing his body left Montezuma Monalisa Funeral Home in Nairobi.
The destination was the actor’s Nanderema home in Funyula constituency, Busia County.
A lean cortege comprising a hearse, Royal Media Services staff bus and one vehicle covered the 400km trip in about 12 hours, arriving in the wee hours of the morning.
Ordinarily, the body would have been taken inside his house for prayers. It would later be moved outside for public viewing as family and friends mourned.
But things were different yesterday. Shortly before the hearse arrived, armed police were stationed inside the compound and the gate closed to prevent locals from gaining entry.
Public health officers stood in a group, conspicuous in their personal protective gear and blue knapsack sprayers. The cortege drove into the compound and parked outside Bukeko’s house. All the vehicles and their passengers were sprayed with disinfectant.
The coffin remained in the hearse until 8am when it was moved to a freshly dug grave. Everything after that moved at warp speed.
Pastor Steven Owino conducted a 10-minute prayer service before family members were allowed a few minutes each to eulogise Bukeko.
Cosmas Wafula, Bukeko’s father, spoke first. “How does a heart-broken father say goodbye to a son who the world had nicknamed Shirandula, which literally means the one who tears, in 10 minutes? “My heart is wounded. Let me reserve my comments until a later date,” he said, adding that he was yet to come to terms with his son’s death.
“Charles had friends from different walks of life and I am sure many would have come to give him a befitting send-off. Even those I worked with would also be here,” he said.
Bukeko’s mother described him as a pillar in the family and said she was not aware of the disease that had killed him.
The actor’s widow, Beatrice Andega, was the last to speak. She said he had been away from home working and on his return on the Sunday of June 12 had complained he was unwell.
“I told him he should go to the hospital and make sure he was tested for malaria, pneumonia and Covid-19 because he was mingling with so many people.”
Bukeko is said to have gone to the hospital where samples were taken. He told his wife that he was waiting for the results.
“On Wednesday I asked him if he had received the results and he said only those for Covid-19 were out,” said Andega.
The widow said that Bukeko started struggling to breathe on Friday and he was driven to hospital.
“Admission was a problem. I told them I wanted their support because it was an emergency. He passed away seated in the car,” she said, fighting back tears.
Andega said a doctor revealed only one test was done on her husband.
“I asked them why they only concentrated on one instead of three. I felt it was total negligence on the part of the hospital. I wish they did everything for him, but it has happened and we surrender everything to God.”
The prayers and speeches took less then half an hour. The coffin was then moved to the burial site, sprayed with disinfectant and lowered into the grave.
After a brief ceremony, police instructed the media and visitors to leave the homestead as a health officer worked his sprayer and disinfected the houses.
That was the final act in the life and times of 58-year-old Bukeko.
But that did not stop those present from speaking their minds about what they had witnessed. David Erulu, an elder, said Bukeko had not been given a send-off befitting his status.
“He never got the burial he deserved as a person who was famous in Kenya and beyond,” said Erulu, adding that due to Bukeko’s age, his body should have been carried to the grave by his brother and the people he worked with.
“In this case, people in personal protective equipment were the ones who carried the body to the grave. But it is because of the abnormal times we are in right now,” he said.
Earlier, Bukeko’s youngest brother, Nick Wafula, had termed his death a big blow to the family.
Wafula said Bukeko always sought advice from his father and brother before embarking on any business venture.
“Sometimes we would be seated at the family table having dinner and he would crack jokes. It was part of his business and character.”
Wafula also said the departed actor was generous to a fault. “Anytime you reached out to him seeking financial assistance, he rarely disappointed us.
“He has left a big void that will never be filled, but we are praying to God to give us strength,” he said.
Residents who were forced to peek through the fence said they had been denied a chance to say goodbye to their ‘son’.
We do not even know whether it is him or not. We did not view his body because of strict rules by the Health ministry,” said Douglas Barasa.
Some of Bukeko’s friends who attended his burial included Juma Anderson, Mshamba, Jackline Nyaminde known by her acting name Wilbroda and Awinja.
“He changed my life positively. The life I live now is because of him,” said Awinja.
Nyaminde said,” The death of Papa shocked me. He was a friend and neighbour. We used to talk frequently until his death.”