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Nigeria collapse: Remains handed over to bereaved families

The victims’ remains are now on their way to various mortuaries around the country.

Remains of the 74 South Africans who were killed in a Nigeria building collapse were repatriated in an emotional ceremony at Waterkloof Air Force Base, Pretoria. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG - Government has given an emotional sendoff to the 85 South Africans killed in the Nigerian church collapse.

The remains of 74 South Africans who were killed in a building collapse in Nigeria are on their way to various mortuaries around the country following a repatriation ceremony at the Waterkloof Air Force Base.

The 74 have been identified while 11 remain in Lagos, having not been positively identified.

Several hundred people, including representatives from government, the diplomatic corps and religious leaders, but mostly relatives of the deceased, attended the event.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africans have been united by this tragedy and hopes that the families of the deceased find some inspiration in the knowledge that the country shares their bereavement.

"Those people were our colleagues, our relatives and our friends."

He said the South Africans who died were not mere statistics, but compatriots worthy of being remembered as citizens whose lives were cut short by the tragedy.

He also expressed his hope that today's proceedings will bring the families one step closer to closure.

The South African police band played the sombre death march as a procession of mortuary trucks carrying the remains of the dead passed the hangar.

The remains will now be transported to their families' home towns for burial.

Government officials including Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe attended the event where bereaved families of the deceased spent the afternoon in mourning.

Special Envoy on the Nigeria Tragedy and Minister in the Presidency, Mr Jeff Radebe accompanied by Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi looking at the plane arrives carrying the mortal remains of the victims of the Nigeria building collapse. Picture: GCIS.

More than a 100 people died when a guest house at the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in Nigeria almost two months ago.

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.

Ramaphosa says the entire nation is in mourning with the families.

"This tragedy in many ways has united us in grief. It has reminded us of our shared humanity. May the souls of those who have departed, rest in eternal peace and may the families of the deceased, find peace."

Many families will only receive the remains this week as family members are located around the country.

The ceremony started with the national anthem followed with a prayer by the police chaplain.

At least a dozen grief stricken mourners broke down emotionally as the names of their loved ones were read out and had to be attended to by paramedics.

One woman was wheeled away on a stretcher after social workers and paramedics made their way over to her.

Several women could be heard crying as the names continued to be read out.

Ramaphosa then greeting the bereaved families.

This Plettenberg Bay man says he's relieved his wife's body is among those repatriated to the country today.

Anthony van der Byl has told Eyewitness News he can now get closure after the ordeal.

"It's confirmed, my wife's body arrived with the others this morning. I'm quite relieved to hear that, so we can go see now with the funeral arrangements."

An inquiry is still underway to determine what caused the Lagos building collapse tragedy.