Nigeria collapse: SA rescue team faces difficult task

Dirco says a South African rescue team made up of 10 experts has been deployed to Nigeria.

Rescue efforts underway in Lagos, Nigeria where at least 67 South Africans have been killed after the collapse of a building belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says a local search and rescue team has been deployed to Nigeria, adding it has a tough job ahead.

In a shock announcement on Tuesday night, President Jacob Zuma disclosed that 67 South Africans had died as a result of the collapse of a residential building owned by the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria on Friday.

Several others have been injured.

The victims are believed to have been on a tour at the church.

The exact number of people still missing is still unknown.

Mashabane has referred to the search and rescue team as a group with advanced expertise.

She made the announcement in Parliament on Wednesday, saying the group comprises of 10 experts, including doctors.

Mashabane was however quick to add they have their work cut out for them.

"Going through the rubble is a thing to do. It is going to be quite a difficult mission."

The minister would not divulge too much information following the tragedy but gave assurances by pulling out all the stops to help affected families.

Led by the charismatic "Prophet" TB Joshua, the church attracts a global following who believe Joshua is able to perform miracles including curing the ill and raising the dead from the grave.

The regular influx of visitors from abroad for the church's services, which can last up to a week, creates demand for accommodation that the church's own guest house has been unable to meet, and often spills over into local hotels.


Families and friends of those feared dead or trapped in the rubble are expected to arrive at OR Tambo International Airport again this morning, in the hope of seeing their loved ones walk through the glass doors.

A large crowd gathered at the airport on Wednesday, after a plane landed from Lagos, but there were no survivors of the tragedy on board.

While 67 have reportedly been killed, 20 South Africans are being treated in hospital.

It was an emotional day for families and friends as they waited in vain after a plane arrived from Lagos, most leaving with more questions that when they'd arrived.

One woman says she is disappointed with the manner in which the South African and Nigerian governments have handled the situation.

Her daughter is among those missing.

"The rescue mission always rushes to these events. Why not this time? Why are they waiting for the Nigerian government to give permission first? They must do something. It's getting late.

She says the last time she heard her daughter's voice was on Friday, before the tragedy.

At the same time, South Africans are demanding answers from government, with many saying they are disappointed with how the tragedy has been dealt with by the relevant departments.


Prominent South African religious leader Ray McCauley says Joshua has to take responsibility and explain why the building in his church complex collapsed, suggesting he is not honest.

Nigeria's government says Joshua and staff at his Synagogue Church of All Nations have so far failed to disclose information to investigators.

McCauley says the fact that Joshua doesn't want to cooperate with investigations raises a number of questions.

"If you're not going to be authentic and transparent about something like this, what is really going on? He should be answering the telephone. If you look closer, you'll see a lot of people who haven't been healed. When people get desperate they'll do desperate things."

The Rhema Bible Church head has criticised the manner in which the tragedy in Nigeria has been handled by the church's leadership.

McCauley says this incident could have been handled more efficiently than it has been by the church.

"The church itself there should have a crisis centre, with telephones lines open for families and people to get information."