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Nigeria collapse: SA families anxiously await news

Families of SA victims are anxiously awaiting news about their loved ones.

Members of the Emmanuel church seated in arrivals terminal after returning from Nigeria today. Picture: Govan Whittles/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Dozens of families are anxiously waiting for news on their loved ones after confirmation that 67 South Africans were killed in a Nigerian building collapse.

The collapse of a popular church guest house on Friday last week has been described by President Jacob Zuma as a 'heartbreaking tragedy'.

The church is run by TB Joshua, a preacher who has a massive local following and attracts thousands of pilgrims from other countries.

Survivors of the building collapse and other South Africans, who were nearby at the time, have been arriving at the OR Tambo International Airport this morning.

Family members of those who have died or are still missing are now grappling with unanswered questions, confusion and frustration.

Palisa Jordan first heard of the tragedy last night and is still looking for her brother in Nigeria.

"Had been following Pastor Joshua on TV and I think he admired what he does. When I spoke to him on the day that he left he said that he'd just wanted to see him in action."

Lesego Koonyaditse left on a nine-day mission to the Nigerian church, seeking spiritual healing, last week.

Her husband Oshebeng says he last spoke to her on Friday, shortly before the multi-storey building came crashing down.

He says he managed to track her down at a local hospital but has not heard from her since.

"I spoke to her briefly on somebody's phone but information is very scarce. I am not sure if she is coming, there is a batch that has arrived but no one has contacted me yet. I am not even sure if she is still there or has arrived at home."

Meanwhile, local aid group Gift of The Givers says it hasn't received any formal requests for it to send emergency teams to Nigeria.

The organisation's Imtiaz Sooliman says, "We have people in Nigeria who are now going to the hospitals because a South African person called us to say her brother was in the church when he got caught up in the crisis. She is not sure where he is but somebody has told her he is in one of the hospitals."

Emergency workers are still on the scene of the collapsed guesthouse.

It's understood they are still trying to gain access to some parts of the site, in a bid to find any survivors.

Yesterday, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, which is responsible for checking standards of materials did say that they are beginning to investigate what kind of materials were used, whether they were of standard and whether they were approved.

VICTIM'S FAMILY DISTRAUGHT

Patrick Matsila says his family has been left distraught by the death of his brother Thomas, a 44-year-old believer from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.

Matsila says his brother and his sister-in-law went to Nigeria with their fellow church members last week.

He says his brother was killed because he went into the building just minutes before it collapsed.

"My sister-in-law was told that my brother was also in that accident after he went into the building to get change, that's when it collapsed."

The Matsila family says they are now awaiting an update from government on when his brother's body will be brought home.

The Presidency's Mac Maharaj says they understand that a group of about 300 people went to the church last week, not all of them are South African but they are still trying to get figures.

"Our primary focus is to help rescue the bodies and help those who are still alive, attend to those injured, identify the bodies and help the loved ones overcome this period of tremendous grief."

'TB JOSHUA CHANGED MY LIFE'

Former Springboks rugby player Jaco van der Westhuyzen has spoken of his interactions and experiences with TB Joshua.

TV evangelist Joshua is also known as the 'prophet' and who numbers former Malawian President Joyce Banda among his disciples.

Van der Westhuyzen visited Joshua's Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos in 2001, after suffering knee ligament damage.

He says Joshua cured him.

"We had a wonderful time there, it was a life changing experience for me. I've only got good words for the man, he's changed my life. Since then it's really been going well with me. It's a real big tragedy that's happened."

The TV evangelist has a massive following in South Africa and South Africans are known to flock to his church throughout the year.

In August last year, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema visited the Nigerian pastor with his new party's leadership.

Though not much is known about the building collapse, Joshua has linked the incident to a suspicious aircraft, apparently seen in the area at the time.

But this has been ruled out by rescue workers so far.

Pictures: EWN

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