Nigeria church collapse bodies returned to SA

A formal reception ceremony would be held at the site where the remains would be received. (Reuters)

A formal reception ceremony would be held at the site where the remains would be received. (Reuters)

Only 74 of the 85 bodies expected to be repatriated to South Africa will be leaving Nigeria on Saturday, the department of communications said.

“We can confirm that we depart with 74 South Africans,” spokeswoman Phumla Williams said in a statement.

“On arrival in South Africa, the families will be able to receive their loved ones to take them to their final ancestral resting places.”

The remains of the 81 South Africans who died over two months ago in a church building collapse were expected to be returned from Nigeria on Sunday morning.

A total of 116 people died on September 12, when a guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church Of All Nations in Lagos - headed by preacher TB Joshua - collapsed.

“We later established that three of these were Zimbabweans and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who travelled with the South African group to Nigeria,” said Williams 

Twenty-six injured South Africans were repatriated a month ago. Twenty of them had since been discharged from hospitals and re-united with their families, Williams said.

Verification
Last week, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe was appointed as a Special Envoy to Nigeria to oversee the repatriation process of the bodies.

Williams said the focus had been preparations to repatriate the deceased for the past six weeks.

“The verification of the mortal remains has been the most difficult part. This was because of the gruesome nature of the accident, which made the identification process difficult,” Williams said.

The verification process had resorted to performing DNA tests.

There had been a delay in a scheduled media briefing which was set to be held at 3pm South African time where Radebe was expected to update the media on the final repatriation plan.

By 6pm spokeswoman Phumla Williams could not provide reasons for the delay. She said Radebe would explain once he arrived at the briefing.

It was not clear what time the briefing eventually took place.

Formal ceremony
A cargo aircraft carrying the remains of the 74 South Africans was set to touch down at the Waterkloof Air Force Base on Sunday morning.

The SA government said it would host a formal reception ceremony at the site on Sunday that will be broadcast on TV.

The bodies would then be transferred to various provincial mortuaries before private funerals were to be arranged.

This week, a team of specialists from South Africa including department of health and the SA Military Health Service officials, forensic pathology officers and police flew to prepare for the repatriation.

A chaplain accompanied the bodies home and families were being provided with support from social workers.

Throughout the two-month wait for the release of the bodies from Nigerian authorities, concerns emerged about their condition.

This week, the government cautioned families not to view the bodies when they were returned.

This was “out of concern for secondary trauma…as well as public health considerations,” Williams said.

A coroner’s inquest into the incident was currently underway in Nigeria.–Sapa

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