Govt: Unknown when SA bodies will be returned

2014-10-22 17:59
Injured people are moved from a plane that came back from Lagos. (File, Sapa)

Injured people are moved from a plane that came back from Lagos. (File, Sapa)

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Johannesburg - There was still no news on when the bodies of more than 80 South Africans killed in a building collapse in Nigeria will be returned home, a government spokesperson said on Wednesday.

"We still don't know. Even as we speak now the laboratory [in Lagos] has not given us an update," Phumla Williams said.

"We reckon by end of the week there will be some information. You see they are not commissioned by us, they are commissioned by the Nigerian government. So they are reporting directly to the Nigerian government, not to us."

Williams said once she received new information, a media briefing would be called.

On 12 September, 116 people, among them 84 South Africans, were killed in the collapse of a multi-storey guest house attached to the Synagogue Church of all Nations.

The church is run by Nigerian preacher TB Joshua. An inquest into the deaths began in mid-October in Nigeria.

On 12 October, City Press quoted a Nigerian medical examiner as saying the bodies would be home by the end of the month.

"We are looking at three weeks," Prof John Obafunwa, chief medical examiner of Lagos State, was quoted as saying.

"I would be surprised if we had to wait till November... I expect all bodies to be out by that time. The inquest could drag on for weeks and months. But we're not going to delay the release of bodies to family members because of that."

Obafunwa was overseeing the identification process and speaking from Lagos University Teaching Hospital, where some of the remains were.

Obafunwa said the autopsies had been completed and samples were shipped out for DNA analysis. He said the identification process had been slow because Nigeria did not have facilities to analyse DNA.

The Inkatha Freedom Party on Wednesday criticised the Nigerian government for the delay.

"This is disheartening and this clearly shows a lack of ubuntu. One can imagine the agony of the families who have been waiting for several weeks for their loved ones to be brought back home," the party's national chairperson Blessed Gwala said.

"The Nigerian government must respond in the spirit of ubuntu by speeding up the process of the DNA testing and the bodies must be sent back home without any further delay."

Gwala said families in South Africa had to postpone funerals because they did not have the bodies.

"Whenever there is death there are rituals and cultural norms that need to be observed, but these families are being denied this."

A group of pastors called the Mahikeng Ministers Fellowship called on Nigerian authorities to expedite the repatriation of the bodies.

"We are concerned that until the [families] have mourned and buried their loved ones in dignity, families... will not find closure to carry on with their lives," the group's chairman Zandisile Mpame said in a statement.

He said it was unacceptable that the identification and repatriation of the bodies had still not been completed after 40 days.

Read more on:    nigeria  |  west africa  |  nigeria building collapse

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