74 SA bodies returned from Nigeria

2014-11-16 09:15
The site of the Nigeria church collapse. (Sunday Alamba, AP)

The site of the Nigeria church collapse. (Sunday Alamba, AP)

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Pretoria - The bodies of 74 South Africans killed in the Nigeria church collapse have arrived in South Africa just over two months after the incident.

The bodies arrived at Waterkloof Air Force base reported Eyewitness News.

Eighty-five South Africans were killed in the collapse at TB Joshua's Synagogue Church of All Nations church.

"We can confirm that we depart with 74 South Africans," spokesperson Phumla Williams said in a statement on Saturday.

"On arrival in South Africa, the families will be able to receive their loved ones to take them to their final ancestral resting places."

26 injured South Africans repatriated a month ago

A total of 116 people died on 12 September, when a guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos - headed by preacher TB Joshua - collapsed.

Twenty-six injured South Africans were repatriated a month ago. Twenty of them had since been discharged from hospitals and reunited with their families, Williams said.

Last week, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe was appointed as a Special Envoy to Nigeria to oversee the repatriation process of the 85 bodies.

Williams said the focus had been preparations to repatriate the deceased for the past six weeks.

"The verification of the mortal remains has been the most difficult part. This was because of the gruesome nature of the accident, which made the identification process difficult," Williams said.

The verification process had resorted to performing DNA tests at the laboratory.

There had been a delay in a scheduled media briefing which was set to be held at 15:00 South African time where Radebe was expected to update the media on the final repatriation plan.

Formal reception ceremony

The SA government said it would host a formal reception ceremony at the site on Sunday that will be broadcast on TV.

The bodies would then be transferred to various provincial mortuaries before private funerals are to be arranged.

This week, a team of specialists from South Africa including department of health and the SA Military Health Service officials, forensic pathology officers and police flew to prepare for the repatriation.

A chaplain accompanied the bodies home and families were being provided with support from social workers.

Throughout the two-month wait for the release of the bodies from Nigerian authorities, concerns emerged about their condition.

This week, the government cautioned families not to view the bodies when they were returned.

This was "out of concern for secondary trauma...as well as public health considerations," Williams said.

A coroner's inquest into the incident was currently underway in Nigeria.

Read more on:    jeff radebe  |  tb joshua  |  pretoria  |  nigeria building collapse

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