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Nigeria Collapse: SA team works to identify more bodies

To date 62 of the 84 South Africans who died in the collapse have been identified.

The site of the building collapse in Lagos. Picture: AFP.

CAPE TOWN - Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe says a South African team of experts is working closely with officials in Nigeria as investigations continue into the Lagos building collapse.

The team is trying to ensure the process of identifying the victims is completed as soon as possible.

At least 115 people were killed when a guesthouse owned by preacher TB Joshua caved in almost two weeks ago, with 84 South Africans among the dead.

Radebe says a South African team in Lagos is working with local authorities.

"The team in Lagos has been able to identify with certainty 62 South Africans. As you know, 115 people died in this tragedy and from that, 84 were South Africans. So we still have a long time to go."

"Experts from the police are currently visiting families to collect DNA samples."

He says various methods are being used to identify the bodies.

"Our government appeals to the families and the nation to bear with us as we allow our team in Lagos the necessary time to complete this process of identifying the bodies. It is clear from the information that this is a methodical and time-consuming process."

He says efforts to identify the bodies have been stepped up as families anxiously wait for the remains to be sent home.

"We will make sure that all deceased persons are repatriated and that the correct body is handed over to the right family."

The identification process consists of direct identification, photo identification, fingerprint data base comparison, dental record comparison and DNA sampling.

Government says as soon as the bodies are identified, a team of 70 experts from the South African Military Health Service and the Department of Health will be ready to depart to Lagos with specialised equipment to transport the deceased back to South Africa with the required care and respect.

Almost two weeks after the guest house accommodating pastor TB Joshua's followers collapsed, families have remained in the dark about when they will be able to give their loved ones dignified burials.

The collapse occurred when three extra storeys were being added to the existing two of a guest house of the church compound, where visitors from abroad flock to stay.

Spokesperson Phumla Williams says two South African pathologists are assisting Nigerian authorities conduct DNA tests and positively identify the deceased.

"The process is now moving fast with the assistance of the Nigerian government."

MORE INJURED RETURN HOME

At the same time, more South Africans who survived the collapse arrived back home today.

Some have, however, decided to remain in Lagos, choosing to return to the Synagogue Church of All Nations.

Twenty-five of the injured were flown back home on Monday and taken to the Steve Biko Academic Hospital for further treatment and assessment.

Of the patients admitted to the hospital, two are still in critical care, two have been transferred to private facilities at the request of their families and four patients have been discharged to the care of their families.

In the meantime, a national task team comprising the Social Development Department, the South African Police Service, Chaplain Services and the Victim Identification Centre has been visiting families of people presumed to have died at the church.

Other teams of social workers are providing psycho-social support to survivors and families of victims at the hospital, OR Tambo International Airport and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation call centre.

Williams says Nigerian authorities are updating the South African inter-ministerial team set up to deal with the tragedy every two hours.

On Tuesday, teams were dispatched to the church of controversial pastor TB Joshua to discuss the return of all South Africans still in the country.

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 guesthouse has been unable to meet, and often spills over into local hotels.

Several African leaders have traveled to Nigeria to meet with Joshua, including former Malawian President Joyce Banda and Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema.

The church attracts a global following of Christians who believe Joshua is able to perform miracles, including curing the ill and raising the dead from the grave.