6 February 2015
A C130 military aircraft landed in Pretoria in the early hours of Friday morning, 6 February, containing the bodies of the remaining victims of the building collapse in Lagos, Nigeria.
“The mortal remains of the outstanding 11 compatriots who perished on 12 September 2014 when the Scoan [Synagogue Church of All Nations] guesthouse collapsed in Nigeria are all back,” Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said shortly after the aircraft landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base.
The bodies were brought back to the country by a team of military health personnel and forensic pathologists who had departed about 9pm on 2 February. Some 81 South Africans were killed and 25 were injured when the multi-storey building collapsed in Lagos nearly five months ago.
Following the disaster, President Jacob Zuma appointed an inter-ministerial committee to oversee the government’s response and to ensure the injured and the deceased were returned to South Africa.
The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) co-ordinated the various role players and led the technical planning for the identification and repatriation of the deceased and the return of injured South Africans.
In November 2014, 74 bodies were repatriated and a formal reception ceremony was held for the families of the victims. At the time, 11 bodies had not been positively identified and could not be repatriated.
“The mortal remains are now back. The families can now close the chapter as we are closing it today so that the last rites are performed so they can bury them with dignity,” Radebe said.
He thanked Zuma for establishing the task team to deal with repatriation process, and acknowledged NatJoints, medical personnel, scientists, officials from the Department of Social Development and members of the South African Police Service.
He was grateful for the assistance of the government of Nigeria in the identification and repatriation.
The 11 bodies are expected to be transported to the nearest government mortuaries in the provinces where the families live.
The government has encouraged anyone in need of grief counselling services to call the Social Development Department’s toll-free number on 0800 428 428, or to send a “Please call me” text message to *120*7867#. A professional counsellor will return their call. The grief counselling services are available freely.