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Zuma shocked by death of South Africans in Nigeria

67 South Africans died when a church building collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria last week.

The scene of a building collapse in Lagos, Nigeria where at least 67 people have been killed. Picture: Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG - President Jacob Zuma announced last night that 67 South Africans had died in the collapse of a wing of a popular Lagos Pentecostal church.

The president reacted with shock and disbelief to details received from the Nigerian government and rescuers, mourning the tragic loss on foreign soil.

The building in the compound belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations and headed by popular evangelist 'prophet' TB Joshua collapsed on Friday while three extra stories were being added to its initial two in the Ikotun neighbourhood of Lagos.

Zuma said, "I believe we'll once again work together to address this situation and indeed also to convey our sympathy to Nigerians who were part of this church service. We hope that as the two countries we will be able to overcome this calamity that has befallen our two countries."

Joshua originally claimed that an aircraft had circled over the complex immediately before the collapse, but that claim has since been dismissed.

Nigerian emergency services on Tuesday put the death toll so far at 62.

The higher figure of 67 came in Zuma's statement and so far there's been no explanation of the discrepancy.

Zuma said such an incident has not happened since 1994.

"I would like to convey to the nation that as a nation we should be together, to feel the pain, to grieve together on what has happened. This has not happened since 1994, for us to lose so many people outside of our borders. Indeed these South Africans had gone to the church service without knowing they would meet this calamity."

RESCUE EFFORTS

Eight bodies were pulled from the rubble of the two-storey guesthouse early on Tuesday.

One woman was pulled out alive and walked away with only a broken wrist.

Workers slowed down digging in the wreckage of the guesthouse after the woman was rescued.

Rescuers are now concentrating efforts on the area around the hostel's restaurant, where previous survivors were found.

At the same time, government has instructed relevant departments to urgently make arrangements for the families of the victims involved.

Zuma has urged anyone who knows that their loved ones visited the church in Lagos to get in touch with the International Relations Department.

Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj says government departments have been instructed to act swiftly to arrange for the affected families to go and identify their loved ones.

"Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues that have lost their loved ones with this shocking tragedy. The whole nation shares with the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who have lost their loved ones and we are all in grief."

He says the figures are tentative and will change.

"The rescue work of bodies is still going on, we will appreciate that they still find bodies of people who are still alive and others with different degrees of injuries, figures are subject to change."

Maharaj says "The president would like to take this opportunity to thank all family members and friends who have provided information to government, which has assisted the South African High Commission in Nigeria in its effort to locate fellow citizens and also to commend the patience of the affected families during this very painful period.

"We also send our sincere condolences to the people of Nigeria and to all other nations affected by this tragedy. Zuma would like to assure all affected families that government will provide all the necessary support. May the souls of the departed compatriots rest in peace."

POLITICIANS UNITE IN GRIEF

South African politicians are united in grief this morning.

Political parties say it's time for everyone to gather to help those who have lost loved ones.

The African National Congress (ANC)'s Khusela Sangoni-Khawe says, "We share the grief of the many families who have lost loved ones and we are calling on all South Africans, irrespective of their faith and beliefs, to extend a hand of comfort."

While the Democratic Alliance (DA)'s Mmusi Maimane says this is just hard to deal with.

"As all of us are South Africans, it sends an incredibly chilling feeling and one of deepening sorrow when you hear fellow South Africans died in that manner."

He says this is a difficult moment for the nation.

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