Nigeria tragedy: SA families to bury loved ones

Government says the repatriation will bring closure to the families as well as the nation.

FILE: 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

PRETORIA - Government says the repatriation of 74 South Africans killed in the Nigerian church collapse will bring closure to their families as well as the nation.

The bodies of the victims were handed over to their families at a special ceremony at the Waterkloof Air Force Base yesterday.

The remains will be transported to locations around the country to be buried.

More than 100 people died when a guest house at the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed in September.

As the police band played the death march, a procession of mortuary trucks filed past the Air Force base hangar.

Several grieving relatives collapsed back into their seats as paramedics and social workers rushed to help them.

Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa said the healing process can now begin.

"What we can be content with is that remains of those who perished have been brought back home. We can now as a nation proceed to lay them to rest so that we too can find peace and find healing."

He said the challenge is to now repatriate the remains of 11 more South Africans whose remains are still in Nigeria.

It's understood authorities are still trying to identify them.


Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe has assured these families that government will do everything possible to help them.

"The families should be under no doubt that the government of President Zuma will leave no stone unturned until we have received all mortal remains of our compatriots."

Meanwhile, families of the victims who have been repatriated are now making funeral preparations with the R50,000 donations each family received from pastor TB Joshua.

Ramaphosa has assured the families that the entire country supports them during this difficult time as they prepare for a dignified burial.

"They will rest in peace in the land of their birth, in the land among their families, relatives and fellow South Africans. The South African nation stands ready to offer a hand in any time of need."

Ramaphosa says the country is united in grief.

"This is indeed a somber moment for the people of South Africa. The people who died in the tragic event in Lagos were not just statics, they were real people. They are in many ways part of us."


In the advert taken out on behalf of the church, TB Joshua himself and his television network, the pastor sent his condolences to the South African government and to the families of those who died.

There is a quote from the scripture and a message about the afterlife.

But the part that caught the attention of critics, is the continued reference to those who were crushed to death as martyrs.

Weekend reports also revealed that Radebe, who led the delegation to Nigeria, refused to meet Joshua inside his church.

The church had reportedly prepared videos of the collapse, maintaining it was the result of an orchestrated attack, not illegal construction, as an official inquiry into the tragedy has heard.