More bodies to return from Nigeria

2015-02-02 14:31
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 - Families of the 11 victims of the Nigerian church building collapse whose bodies remain in that country almost five months after the disaster, will know on Tuesday which of them will be returned this week.

"A SANDF [SA National Defence Force] C130 aircraft with a repatriation team is departing to Lagos to bring [back] the mortal remains of those that have been positively identified," Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe told reporters in Pretoria on Monday.

However, it would not be clear until Tuesday if all or only some of the bodies will be coming home.

"Our repatriation team is leaving [today] at 15:00 for Lagos, where they will be meeting the Nigerian authorities for purposes of repatriation. When they land later this evening or tomorrow [Tuesday], we'll know precisely how many South Africans will be repatriated," Radebe said.

He noted the process of identifying the bodies was not led by the South African government.

"All the verification and the testing is done by the Nigerian authorities. Ours is to provide the necessary information to ensure that the process is finally concluded.

"So tomorrow, we will know for certain how many will be repatriated."

In constant communication

Eighty-one South Africans were among the 116 people who died on 12 September last year when a guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church Of All Nations in Lagos - headed by preacher TB Joshua - collapsed.

Seventy-four bodies - including four foreign nationals - were returned to South Africa last November.

Responding to a question, Radebe said the government was in continuous communication with the 11 families.

"If and when we get the full briefing [on Tuesday] from our NATJOINTS [National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure] team in Nigeria, our team will be informing the South African families about the identities."

The plane would return on Wednesday, and was likely to touch down in the early hours of Thursday morning at Waterkloof Air Force Base, at about 01:00 or 02:00.

The bodies would be transported to the nearest government mortuaries ahead of release to the families.

Radebe said the government had been working "tirelessly" with the Nigerian authorities over the past two months to try and identify the remaining 11 South Africans.

"Fresh [DNA] samples were collected from the 11 families for further verification tests," he said.

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

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