Authorities closer to identifying deceased South Africans

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Pretoria – Government says it has reached a milestone in the identification of the mortal remains of those South Africans who died when a building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria collapsed earlier this month.

“The capturing of fingerprints of the deceased persons, where possible, has been completed. The prints are currently being run through the fingerprint databases from the Department of Home Affairs and the South African Police Service.

“We expect that the process of comparing the fingerprints should be completed by the end of the week,” head of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team on the Nigeria Tragedy and Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, reported on Sunday. 

Updating media on efforts to repatriate the mortal remains of deceased South Africans from Nigeria, Minister Radebe explained that once the comparison of fingerprints is completed, and identification is confirmed, the correct remains will be handed over to the right family.

“We will also know conclusively how many amongst the deceased persons are South African citizens. This is important because some of the deceased persons are citizens of other countries who were also at the guesthouse at the time of the building collapse.”

As a result of the process up to now, it has been established that four of the bodies are not South African citizens.  Three are citizens of Zimbabwe and the other is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Minister Radebe noted that due to the nature of the incident and the time frames involved, forensic evidence such as fingerprints has in some cases been compromised.

“In such situations further analysis using alternative methods, such as comparison of dental records and DNA analysis, will be conducted to identify the deceased,” said the Minister.

He further noted that since this particular disaster occurred outside of South Africa, the processes have to be carried out in terms of Nigerian laws. He advised South Africans to prepare themselves for a process that may go on for a while longer than they would have wished.

A post-mortem has to be performed on all deceased persons and death certificates have to be issued before the mortal remains may be repatriated back home to South Africa.

“Due to differences in laws governing the certification of health professionals, the South African forensic experts who are currently in Nigeria may not perform post-mortems on the deceased persons. Regrettably, the process is bound to take a considerable amount of time given the large number of people who died in the incident.

“The South African government continues to cooperate with the Nigerian Government to achieve the speediest possible conclusion of the process.  The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) is in constant communication with the South African High Commissioner in Nigeria, Ambassador Mnguni, and the team of experts on the ground in Nigeria.

“All possible assistance is being provided to the Nigerian authorities to expedite the process,” Minister Radebe said.

Trauma counselling

The Department of Social Development is also in constant communication with the families to update them on the progress made and provide trauma counselling when needed.

The Minister warned that due to the scale of the disaster, time passed and climatic conditions, most of the mortal remains are not in a good state.

“Out of concern for potential secondary trauma to the families as well as public health considerations, government discourages all families from viewing the mortal remains.

“We know that the viewing of mortal remains is in keeping with our traditions and customs; however, we are now confronted with a unique set of circumstances that make it extremely challenging for us to observe this respected custom of our people.”

It is envisaged that the mortal remains will be brought to South Africa on a single flight which will be properly equipped for the task.

Government has identified appropriate facilities where the mortal remains will be taken to upon arrival. It is at these facilities where families will receive the mortal remains.

The Minister disputed the rumours that some of the mortal remains have arrived in the country.

Families and people who require the assistance of a grief counsellor are urged to call the Social Development Department’s toll-free number on 0800 428 428.

They can alternatively send a “please call me” to: *120*7867# and a professional counsellor will call back.

Government has reassured the families, friends and communities of the deceased that they are not alone, the thoughts and prayers of the whole nation are with them.  

Eighty four South Africans died the building collapsed on 12 September. Twenty five injured South Africans have since returned home. –

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