The bodies of 81 South Africans killed when a guesthouse belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) collapsed in Lagos have yet to be repatriated almost two months after the accident, South Africa’s government said Thursday.
“It is certainly heartbreaking that the families of the 81 South Africans presumed dead continue to wait for their mortal remains to be returned home,” said Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe in a statement at Parliament.
A total of 116 people were killed on September 12 when a guesthouse collapsed at the Lagos megachurch of one of Nigeria’s most popular preachers, TB Joshua.
Six South Africans wounded in the incident are still being treated at a Pretoria hospital.
Radebe, who has been named Special Envoy to Nigeria, said he would leave for the country “in a few days”, where a team already on the ground is working to facilitate the repatriation process.
“Government regrets that families continue to bear such a long-drawn-out period of uncertainty,” he said.
“We would like to reassure the families and South Africans at large that government has not taken the foot off the pedal. The repatriation of the mortal remains (is) very high on the government agenda.”
Radebe’s statements come a day after Joshua failed to appear at a Nigerian inquest into the building collapse, though his lawyer said the preacher never received the witness summons.
Expert witnesses at the hearing have previously ruled out Joshua’s claims that sabotage from a low-flying aircraft or a terrorist attack may have caused the tragedy.
Instead, the court has been told that the guesthouse did not have any planning permission.
Inspections indicated that other structures on the site, including the church’s main auditorium which Joshua claims was designed by the Holy Spirit, were structurally defective.
Lagos State Coroner, Mr Oyetade Komolafe, said at a sitting on Wednesday that “the prophet (Joshua) should assist the court to assist him. As the chief mourner, we don’t want to inflict more pain on him. He should not put himself at variance with the law.”