Faces of Nigeria

They were not only beloved mothers and fathers, devoted daughters and sons, and adored siblings. The 85 South Africans who died in the collapse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations guesthouse in Lagos were also citizens with irreplaceable skills. Among them were six teachers, a doctor, five senior government officials and a host of go-getters destined for success. These are the faces of the tragedy

In life, Durban health practitioners Dr Phumzile Nonhlanhla Ngcobo (48), popularly known as Dr Dickie, and her husband, health practitioner Thuthukani Dennis Ngcobo (50), were inseparable.

The founders of the city’s highly successful Ukuphila Wellness Centre, which has branches across the province, worked, lived and worshipped together. They died together too, in the Lagos guesthouse disaster and were buried side by side at the family’s home in Melmoth, Zululand.

The couple, who also owned a farm in Richmond, were on their first trip to visit TB Joshua. Their family and friends threw a party for them just before they left for Lagos.

The Ngcobos were senior leaders of the Kingdom Embassy International Church. They were committed to their family and lived in an up-market part of Durban North with their 10 children.

Thuthukani’s brother Sikesakhe Ngcobo (46) said the family was comforted that the couple died “while seeking spiritual growth”.

“They were a successful couple who always put God first in whatever they did. In their busy schedule, they always made time to go to church and serve their God,’’ said Ngcobo.

“They were true role models and we always looked up to them. They were madly in love?...?Even though they had a huge family of their own, they went out of their way to help us. They used to take our problems and make them their own. We knew that once they arrived, everything would be sorted.” – S’mangele Zuma

As the “backbone” of her family, Caroline Kelebogile Makalela will be sorely missed. Two months after her death, her family battled to speak about the loss of their rock and breadwinner without falling apart. Kenneth Makalela, one of the 38-year-old’s cousins, said they grew up rope skipping and bathing together. Caroline was a police officer who loved her work, and her colleagues from Springs and surrounding areas attended her funeral.

Kenneth said his cousin had called him before she left and was “so excited about the trip to Nigeria”.

“I am proud that she died in a church. One thing I will miss about her was the advice she gave me. My life hasn’t been easy, but she was always there for me,” he said. He added that when the family first heard about the building collapse, they believed she was one of the survivors.

“She is a strong woman. But a few days later, we heard that she was no more. It has been difficult, but we have come to terms with it.” Athandiwe Saba

A mother, sister, friend and wife, Caroline Mpho Seakamela loved travelling and learning. She was described by her friend Naledi Mokgobinyane, who survived the church collapse, as a gentle and warm woman whose love for the Lord showed in everything she did.

Seakamela, from North West, spent most of her youth in Meadowlands, Soweto. She studied to become a teacher and obtained her honours in educational psychology before completing an MBA. Seakamela was her parents’ first child and her mother was distraught when she heard that her daughter would not be coming back from Nigeria alive.

She is survived by her three children, her siblings and mother. Athandiwe Saba

Shonisani Negukhula had saved all the money she needed to travel to Nigeria, but couldn’t get a place on an earlier trip.

When she finally made it onto the list to worship at TB Joshua’s church, she travelled from Mpumalanga – where she worked in government – to her home in Maungani village in Limpopo’s Vhembe area. There, she dropped off her car with her family and said her goodbyes.

“She was overwhelmed with excitement, but still went on to ask the whole family to pray together before she left,” family spokesperson Ivan Rampeiwa said. “Shonisani was in high spirits and looking forward to worshipping in Lagos and everyone was happy that she was finally doing it.”

The 33-year-old held a master’s degree in biochemistry and had been an academic before joining the civil service.

“She used to visit other churches, but her ultimate goal was to visit Prophet TB Joshua’s church in Nigeria. Shonisani will be sorely missed as a breadwinner who was putting her siblings through school and actually motivating them through studying herself,” Rampeiwa said. “Apart from putting her God and family first, I am sure she will also be missed by her colleagues and those she managed at work. We’ve have heard a lot of amazing things about her outstanding leadership and managerial skills.” – Poloko Tau

After his wife, Susan Ramatsea, had travelled to Lagos several times alone, Azwilingwi Tshivhase decided to join her and see TB Joshua’s church for himself.

“The couple told Azwilingwi’s mother that they were going to Nigeria. They have four children who they left at home, and now they are orphans,” said family spokesperson Charles Tshivhase.

Tshivhase and Ramatse, from Polokwane, would have celebrated their 41st and 38th birthdays six days apart this month. Instead, they were buried together. – Poloko Tau

Trainee pastor Phumlani Sabelo Myeni (27) knew from a young age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps.

His older brother, Sambulo (33), said Phumlani was a pastor on probation at the Church of God of All Nations led by Apostle Eric Myeni.

“We were filled with hope when he left as we knew that he didn’t go only for himself, but for the benefit of the entire family. He had gone to seek spiritual counsel on his life, future and family. He went for prayer and to see the man of God, TB Joshua,” Sambulo said.

The family, who come from Nseleni near Richards Bay, initially battled to accept Myeni’s death. They have slowly come to terms with it, Sambulo said, as “we believe it was God’s will and we know that God’s will can’t be changed or reversed”.

Sambulo said his brother was courageous and would always be remembered by the family as a person who spoke “wise words” and was ready to face whatever life threw at him.

The young pastor was laid to rest at Mkuze near Jozini. – S’mangele Zuma

Michael Mbongeni Ndlovu (52) from Acornhoek in Bushbuckridge was a teacher who also liked the finer things in life.

His son, Xolani (29), said that when he was not teaching at Magwagwaza High School in Acornhoek, or working as a deputy branch secretary for the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, he spent time with his crew of fellow bikers.

“De Bongz”, as his friends called him, was the founding member of the social club Sun Riders Bikers.

“He had passion for life,” Xolani said. Ndlovu had been a teacher for 26 years. He is survived by his wife, Wonder, also a teacher, and two other sons – Swakhile (25) and Vuyolwethu (11) – and two-month-old grandson Xingwavila.

Xolani said his father went to Nigeria to pray. “Those chats we would have before dinner are no longer going to be the same.” – Sizwe sama Yende

Tinyiko Martha Mhlanga (54), from Tintswalo village in Bushbuckridge, was a devoted nurse and wife. Her husband, Petros Masango (63), said the couple had been together for 22 years and his wife had worked at Tintswalo Hospital for 32 years.

“I’ll never find someone like her. She was a good wife,” Masango said.

They were poor but happy, he said.

They lived in a single room when they married and together they raised two children, Junior (30) and Emmah (27) from her previous relationship.

“She went to Nigeria to pray and did not come back,” Masango said. – Sizwe sama Yende

Nokuthula Beauty Chibi from KaMhlushwa, Malelane, was a part-time nurse at the Nelspruit Medi-Clinic. Her remains have not yet been repatriated from Lagos. She is survived by her husband, Mciniseli, who is a teacher, and two children aged 15 and 19. – Sizwe sama Yende

Kgomotso Maureen Mahlwele (58) from Mhluzi, Middelburg, loved to cook. Mahlwele, who worked for the Mpumalanga department of education as Middelburg’s circuit manager, is survived by four sons and a daughter, her mother, brother and seven grandchildren. She had gone to Nigeria “to pray”, her family said.

Her son Jabulani said: “She was a great cook of all kinds of dishes. That and her hands-on character is what we miss a lot about her.” – Sizwe sama Yende

Lindiwe Constance Bhiya (47) from Tonga, outside Malelane, Mpumalanga, was the principal of the village’s Siboshwa Primary School. She is survived by two children, aged 21 and 24. – Sizwe sama Yende

The exterior of the Synagogue Church of All Nations guesthouse in Lagos, Nigeria, before it collapsed. Picture: AP

Prudence Ntimba from Matsulu was a teacher at Tikhontele Secondary School. She was her family’s breadwinner, and took care of her mother and her six-year-old daughter, who was in Grade 1 this year. – Sizwe sama Yende

Themba Thomas Vilakazi from Cosmos Park in Standerton was a teacher at the town’s Madi Combined School. He is survived by his wife, Mavis, who is a teacher at Sakhile Secondary School. Vilakazi had three children – two who are now adults and his youngest, aged 17. – Sizwe sama Yende

Matlapeng Nziyane from Dwarsloop in Bushbuckridge was the deputy principal at Hluvukani Primary School and also a pastor at Mpisane Church of Nazarene. He is survived by his wife, a teacher, and two children aged 17 and 14. – Sizwe sama Yende

Olga Tshabalala Mufhadi (40) had been in Nigeria for less than day when she died in the building collapse. Her mission was to meet Prophet TB Joshua and have him pray for her. Her brother, Godfrey Tshabalala, believes that her spirit is resting in perfect peace because she died in the house of God, but her family says she went too soon.

Godfrey said: “The family was seriously affected by the incident and the precious life that was lost on earth. However, the family still believes that Senior Prophet TB Joshua is a genuine man of God and continues to love him.

The family has left everything in God’s hands and believes the will of God will be done.”

Tshabalala was a sergeant in the Joburg metro police department. She is survived by her husband, a daughter, her parents and siblings. – Zinhle Mapumulo

Pastor Louis Lekgetho loved and feared God and had gone to Nigeria for fellowship and spiritual revival, said his fellow pastor Mbulelo Mathatha.

The two were close friends for nearly two decades and shared a flat for two years.

“The community of Aliwal North is poorer without him. He was a community builder here. A few years ago, he started a ministry and also a home for vulnerable children. He was serious about the well-being of other people,” Mathatha said.

“He was such a spiritual leader. This was his second visit to the church in Nigeria. The last time he was there he came back very revived spiritually.”

They last spoke a fortnight before Lekgetho travelled to Lagos and he seemed very excited about his trip. – Lubabalo Ngcukana

Rescuers scour the rubble for survivors after the building fell in on itself. Picture: AP

Ditaba Richard Mabe was a husband, father and spiritual leader to a congregation in Qwaqwa, Free State.

“Mabe was a very responsible, caring husband and a true man of God. He worshipped God in spirit and truth. He was more than a husband to me; he was also a mentor,” said his wife, Pamela.

“To his congregation, he was everything. He was a pastor and a father to his flock. My family and the congregation are thankful for the time we have had with him.”

Pamela, a nurse, is now the family’s breadwinner and believes God will provide for her and her three young children. Despite her loss, the couple’s nine-year-old daughter is still filling the family home with song – she loves to sing gospel. – Athandiwe Saba

“About 15 minutes before the building accident, he called and said repeatedly in a voice I could not understand, ‘I love my God, I love my God’ and in the end said ‘and I love you too’.”

That was the last time Cynthia Mongala spoke to her 54-year-old husband, Isaac Moleseng Mashego. “He was excited about his first trip to Lagos and looking forward to getting his blessings. He said to me a few days before he left: ‘You must just sit still and watch me as I serve my Lord. I want to serve my Lord, just watch and see.’”

Cynthia described her husband as a “devoted Christian”, adding that he was looking forward to leading a men’s ministry he had started at his local church. – Poloko Tau

Salome Mokoena from North View, Mbombela, was a pastor. She left behind two children who were in matric and in Grade 7 this year. – Sizwe sama Yende

Precious Nokuphila Maphumulo (36), from Ezimbokodweni in the south of Durban, did not tell her family she was once again visiting TB Joshua’s church this year. She’d been several times before.

Her cousin, Lindokuhle Whittle, to whom she was close, said Maphumulo worked as an office administrator at the SA Revenue Service in Cape Town.

“We saw the tragic news on television and felt sorry for the victims and their families. We didn’t know that we had also lost our loved one,” Whittle said.

“We got suspicious when her phone was off and we could not get hold of her close friend who was in Nigeria. We then read the friend’s last WhatsApp update, which said they were together. That’s when it struck us that she might also be dead. We don’t know what was so urgent that she would leave without telling us.”

Whittle said Maphumulo, who leaves behind her 14-year-old son and an orphaned niece she was supporting, was a role model for the entire family.

“She was our hero. She grew up under tough, poverty-stricken conditions, but she managed to reach for her dreams. She was a bubbly person who was always filled with love and would always humble herself before anyone. She was a born-again Christian and was proud of it. My aunt is heartbroken as her beautiful flower was taken away from her too soon.”

Maphumulo had recently built a house for herself and her mother, something that Whittle said she had planned to do since she started working to show her appreciation for her mum. Maphumulo was buried at her home in Ezimbokodweni. – S’mangele Zuma

Sibongile Mnisi from KaMagugu, Mbombela, was the former municipal manager of Umjindi local municipality in Barberton. At the time of her death, she was working for the SA Local Government Association in Mpumalanga, serving as its programme manager for governance and intergovernmental relations. – Sizwe sama Yende

Lybon Mathebula from Hazyview was a senior technician with the Bushbuckridge municipality. He leaves his wife, a junior accountant in White River, and two children aged nine and one. – Sizwe sama Yende

Mandla Treasure Ngwenya, from Lochiel in Carolina, worked at Spoornet in Ermelo. He left behind his wife Beauty, who teaches at Sisukumile Secondary School, and two children aged 18 and 11. – Sizwe sama Yende

Solomon Malinga from Gutshwa, Mbombela, was working at Spoornet. He had an eight-year-old daughter. – Sizwe sama Yende

Boitumelo Petronella Brandse’s family hasn’t stopped praying since the 29-year-old woman from Thaba Nchu, Free State, was killed in the tragedy.

Brandse worked as a revenue clerk for a hospital in Burgersdorp in the Eastern Cape. Her sister, Katlego Khonkhobe (19), says she shared everything with Petronella, who had a bright future.

“There’s a lot I am going to miss about her. Even though she was my big sister, we had so much in common. We would study together because she had recently gone back to school. She was also my business partner.

We were so close,” she said. “We would speak about what we wanted our wedding days to be like. We promised each other that we would be each other’s maid of honour.”

The two were supposed to go to Nigeria together in September, but Khonkhobe couldn’t go. She was writing her university exams and has pushed on despite her loss.

“She was everything to me,” she said. Petronella leaves behind her five-year-old son, her sister, and mother and father. – Athandiwe Saba

Louise van der Byl’s husband, Anthony, waited helplessly while his wife died under tons of rubble just a metre away from him. The man from The Crags near Plettenberg Bay had to identify her body in a mortuary in George after her remains were repatriated from Lagos.

“Seeing her like that was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But we have to hang in there,” he said.

Louise, who worked for the government programme Working for Water, was 50 when she died on September 12.

Despite the tragedy, Anthony (47), a building contractor, still describes TB Joshua as his best friend and mentor.

The couple were married for 12 years and have two children aged 12 and 18. She had three children from a previous marriage, and the disappearance of her eldest son three years ago prompted their pilgrimage to Nigeria.

Anthony recalled the harrowing moments when their guesthouse attached to the Lagos church collapsed: “We were sitting in the dining area. There was a sudden deafening explosion and a big wall collapsed. There was screaming, the whole building crashed down on us.”

His wife’s final words to him in the dark were: “Anthony, just keep on praying.” Then she fell silent.

He was trapped under the rubble for more than a day, in which time he prayed for oxygen and water.

Anthony described Louise as the love of his life, saying it was very hard to be parted from her. “She was a very positive human being. Very strong. I know she is in heaven now.”

Louise was buried in a cemetery in The Crags. – Biénne Huisman

Nomsa Mavis Mangane (47), from Mayflower in Carolina, was a social worker. She leaves behind her husband, Nhlanhla, and four children – Mbali (32), Buhle (19), Hlengiwe (13) and Ntando (9).

Nhlanhla said Nomsa had gone to Nigeria to pray with fellow Christians from other churches and countries. She was a committed member of the Emmanuel’s Grace Salvation Church in Mayflower.

“She was a very friendly person and liked church a lot,” he said. – Sizwe sama Yende

Winnie Mbatha would have turned 50 this month.

Her family was planning to throw the mother of all parties to celebrate her life – but instead, as November ended, they buried her at Florentia cemetery in Alberton, Gauteng.

It was the second tragedy to strike the Mbatha family this year: Winnie’s husband, Collen, died two weeks before his wife’s remains were repatriated from Lagos.

“Winnie was a successful businesswoman whose desire was to see her family prosper, not just in wealth but spiritually and physically,” said her niece Mongo Marumo.

“She moved heaven and earth to ensure that nobody lacked anything.”

Mbatha owned the AmaMbatha funeral parlour in Tladi, Soweto. She went to Lagos to pray for peace in her husband’s family and for prosperity.

“She is gone and we will definitely miss her caring and motherly attitude to us all. But none of us is blaming God, or anyone for that matter, because she was an angel sent by God and ran her race very well in this world,” Marumo said. She is survived by her son, David, and three grandchildren. – Zinhle Mapumulo

A military plane carrying 25 injured South African survivors of the Lagos church guesthouse collapse landed at Air Force Base Waterkloof in Pretoria in late September. Among them were four-year-old Siphelele Mthethwa who, together with her two-year-old sister Zama, were orphaned after their parents, Mandla and Lufuno, and their nine-year-old sister, Renewa, died in the tragedy. Picture: Herman Verwey

Vatiswa Doro-Madikiza loved to laugh. Her brother, Thanduxolo Doro, said the mother of one wanted to be a successful businesswoman.

“She had already identified a deserted [petrol station], which she wanted to run.

“That is why she went to Nigeria, to ask for blessings in her new endeavours. She wanted to develop herself and had big plans.”

Doro-Madikiza was studying at the University of Pretoria at the time of her death.

Thanduxolo said the King William’s Town resident, a teacher, was very friendly and enjoyed jokes.

“She wanted to prosper, but for her family to prosper too. She went to Nigeria because of all these aspirations she had,” he said.

Thanduxolo said his sister’s passing left the family devastated because they had thought she would be the one to achieve better things.

“We never saw this coming. No one could have imagined she would die like this, because she died trying to pursue her dreams.” – Lubabalo Ngcukana

Dan Samuels, from Cape Town, wrote: “I’m having the time of my life in Nigeria.” This was two days before the guesthouse at TB Joshua’s compound collapsed.

The 32-year-old, who trained in computers, chronicled his trip online in meticulous detail – he counted down the days to departure and said he had been saving up to visit Lagos for months.

He leaves behind his fiancée from the Philippines, Mary Ann Lapuz, and his mother, Raaldia Samuels.

Raaldia, who says Dan was “a person who loved God”, waited patiently for her son’s remains to be repatriated so she could bury him.

His cousin Franzette Saul was more outspoken against Joshua. “They believed he would heal them?...?then the opposite happened,” she reportedly said after the tragedy.

Photos on his social media accounts show Dan smiling and hugging Lapuz, and snapping selfies in cycling gear around Cape Town. – Biénne Huisman

Mandla Jacob Sibanyoni from Ermelo worked at the town’s Nedbank branch. He is survived by his wife. – Sizwe sama Yende

Mandla Mthethwa’s wish was for all his family members to prosper and never depend on anybody for anything.

When he learnt of an opportunity to go to Nigeria to meet Prophet TB Joshua, he forked out more than R100?000 to pay for his entire family – wife Lufuno, and three daughters, Renewa (9), Siphelele (4) and Zama (2) – to go to the church in Nigeria.

Soon after the family arrived, the guesthouse collapsed, killing the couple and Renewa, who was the youngest person to die in the tragedy. Siphelele and Zama returned to South Africa as orphans.

A day before the three were buried in Orange Farm, Gauteng, Mthethwa’s brother Muziwenkosi Dingiswayo said: “This tragic incident will remain engraved in my mind for a very long time. Two beautiful kids have been left orphaned.

The cruelty of death is beyond me, but we have to accept what has happened and be strong for their children – they need us more than ever now.” – Zinhle Mapumulo

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