Sixty-seven South Africans have been killed in a building collapse that occurred at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) in Nigeria, President Jacob Zuma said in a statement on Tuesday.
Scores more sustained injuries when the multi-storey guesthouse belonging to the church collapsed on Friday.
“This is a particularly difficult time for South Africa. Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country,” said Zuma.
“Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues that have lost their loved ones in this heart-breaking tragedy.
“The whole nation shares the pain of the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who have lost their loved ones. We are all in grief,” he said.
On Tuesday evening, Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation tweeted that the government struggled to gather information earlier.
Our team in #Nigeria not getting the cooperation they need. Verification very difficult. As Maharaj said “take figure of 67 with caution”.
— Clayson Monyela (@ClaysonMonyela) September 16, 2014
Zuma said he had directed various government departments to ensure that relatives of the deceased were taken to Nigeria to identify their loved one’s bodies.
Government wanted to ensure that the bodies were repatriated as soon as possible. Zuma thanked the families of the deceased and the Nigerian government for their co-operation with the South African government.
He also extended his condolences to Nigeria and all other nations affected by this tragedy. “May the souls of the departed compatriots rest in peace,” he said.
Nigerian preacher and televangelist TB Joshua on Sunday linked the deadly building collapse at his Lagos megachurch to a suspicious aircraft but rescue workers ruled out the theory of foul play, AFP reports.
Joshua, dubbed “The Prophet” by fanatical followers because of his purported predictions and healing powers, showed footage of the moments leading up to the collapse on his emmanuel.tv network.
Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 42 people were killed in Friday’s incident, while 130 escaped or were pulled out alive from the rubble.
In the security camera footage, apparently from opposite the vast church compound, what is described as an aircraft is seen over the building four times at 11.30am (1030 GMT), 11.43am, 11:45am and 11.54am.
The uncompleted building, five floors of which are visible above a high wall, is then seen to collapse at 12.44pm, throwing up huge clouds of dust into the air.
“After the incident, the strange aircraft does not return,” a commentary accompanying the images adds.
There was no independent verification of the authenticity of the footage but Joshua has said he would make it available to Nigeria’s security agencies.
SCOAN is located in Ikotun, near Lagos international airport.
Rescue work delayed
Joshua’s theory about the low-flying plane featured in a number of Nigerian newspapers on Sunday.
But NEMA’s southwest co-ordinator Ibrahim Farinloye rejected claims of sabotage and said extra floors were being added to the building without changing the foundations.
“If it were an act of terrorism or sabotage, it would have gone into rubble,” he told AFP at the scene.
Building collapses are common in Nigeria because of the use of sub-standard material and flouting of construction regulations.
NEMA rescue workers were only able to access the site properly at 9.00am on Sunday and the emergency services and media had previously complained of being attacked by church security.
The Lagos state building control agency also complained that its officials were obstructed and Farinloye indicated more lives could have been saved had rescuers been able to get to the building sooner.
Rescuers wearing protective facemasks and boots used excavators to remove slabs of flattened concrete and were hunting for anyone still trapped under the wreckage of twisted metal and masonry.
The building was believed to be a guesthouse for foreign members of SCOAN and green mattresses were clearly visible among the debris.
It was not known how many people were inside the building when it collapsed.
But Joshua preaches to massive crowds at the megachurch every week and, according to his website, SCOAN “hosts thousands of national and international visitors” each year.
“People travel from around the world to witness and receive from the mighty work that God is doing in the life of Prophet TB Joshua,” it states.
Joshua said on his Facebook page TB Joshua Ministries that reports that the church auditorium had collapsed and that there had been heavy casualties were not correct.
“The few people that were there are being rescued,” he said on Friday. – Sapa
Additional reporting by AFP