The bodies of the remaining 11 South Africans who were killed when the building in which they were staying collapsed are to be fetched from Nigeria and finally brought home.
A South African National Defence Force C130 aircraft with a repatriation team left for Lagos on 2 February to collect the mortal remains of those who have been positively identified. The plane is expected to return the bodies to Air Force Base Waterkloof, in Tshwane, on 4 February.
The long wait for these families, friends and communities is expected to be over finally. The bodies will be transported from the air force base to the nearest government mortuaries, and government social workers will be in continuous communication with the bereaved families.
Nearly five months ago, on 12 September 2014, 85 South African citizens died when a multi-storey guesthouse belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos collapsed. A total of 150 people died in the disaster. The victims were staying in the guesthouse while on a spiritual sojourn. It was one of the biggest disasters to befall democratic South Africa.
The South African government ensured the safe return of 25 injured South Africans, and has been working with the Nigerian authorities to repatriate the remains of the deceased. President Jacob Zuma also appointed an inter-ministerial committee to oversee the government’s response to the disaster.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure led technical planning for the identification and repatriation of the injured and the deceased South Africans. All 25 of the injured have been discharged from hospital.
Victim identification was completed on 74 of the dead, and the bodies were repatriated. They were handed to their families at an official ceremony on 16 November 2014. However, the bodies of 11 South Africans had not been positively identified and could not be repatriated.
Over the past two months, the government has been working to identify the remaining bodies and retrieve them. Fresh DNA samples were collected from the 11 families for further verification tests.
The South African government has encouraged anyone in need to make use of its freely available grief counselling services. For counselling, the bereaved can call the toll-free number of the Social Development Department on 0800 428 428, or they can send a “Please call me” text message to *120*7867# and a professional counsellor will call them back.