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No timeline for return of Nigerian church collapse bodies

Families of South Africans who died in the Nigerian church collapse have an indefinite wait for the return of the bodies – which continue to decompose, the SA government said on Sunday.

“We wish we had [a timeline]. We are entirely at the mercy of the Nigerians,” said government spokeswoman Phumla Williams.

She said that the SA government had decided that it needed to have a frank discussion with the families about the state the bodies would be in when they were returned.

She said the families were told: “We are appealing to you that you expect the worst. I don’t think you want to see your relative in the state that they are in…The majority of them – I don’t think that they are looking good”.

Earlier the Sunday Independent reported that in some mortuaries, bodies were being kept cool with fans and no refrigeration, a claim the Nigerian government denied.

On Friday, it was announced that the post-mortems of all the 116 victims had been completed. Eighty four South Africans were among those killed when the multi-storey guest house attached to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos collapsed on September 12.

Williams said that they believed three or four of the bodies from South Africans killed were in a better state because they had been embalmed quickly.

The SA government had hoped that the process of repatriation would move quickly after the post-mortems.

However, this process had been frustrated by the fact that Nigerian officials had insisted on doing DNA testing themselves.

“They don’t have the technology,” said Williams. 

She said that South Africans had hoped “at least to assist” in the process since.

Nevertheless, the goverment was still waiting to hear if the bodies had been transported to a service provider for the testing.

“We don’t know when they are going to finish.”

She said the government had also learned that “because of the state in which the bodies are in, the DNA testing is not going to be a quick process”.

This left the government reluctant to estimate a date for the return of the bodies as it did not want to create unnecessary expectations.

However, Williams asserted that “at any stage; we [the SA government] are ready to go and fetch [the bodies]”. on Saturday. –Sapa

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