Minister Radebe visits collapsed Nigeria building

Thursday, November 13, 2014

By Chris Bathembu

Lagos - Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, on Thursday visited the scene of the collapsed building owned by TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria.

Scores of people including 81 South Africans died and others seriously injured when the church’s multi-storey guest house collapsed two months ago.

Minister Radebe, who was this week appointed Special Envoy to Nigeria in preparation for the return of the bodies to South Africa, visited the site to get first-hand experience of the events that unfolded there when the residence went down on 12 September.

It was business as usual at the church with congregants and staff going about their normal business. The rubble that collected when the guest house went down within seconds was still visible. An investigation into the incident is ongoing in Nigeria.

When media crew from SAnews and the SABC arrived at the church on Thursday they were ushered into a fancy restaurant where they were offered water and food. A video displaying controlled building demolitions, which have been performed in Nigeria over the years, was being screened on the various TV monitors together with a footage showing the collapsing guest house. 

A staff member told the media crew that the video was being played for all visitors to the church since that tragic event which has left many with unanswered questions.

Minister Radebe, dressed in a navy blue suit and wearing dark sunglasses, did not enter the church premises and only inspected the rubble and left shortly afterwards.

He told a gathering of journalists that he had decided to visit the site to “see for myself what we are actually talking about”.

“We want, when we take the mortal remains of our compatriots to be able to indicate that we have been to this place and seen for ourselves what has happened,” Minister Radebe said.

The South African government is planning to repatriate the remains this coming weekend after the Lagos State government on Wednesday released the bodies of 54 South Africans for collection after they were identified through DNA.

Minister Radebe said Pretoria is hoping more South Africans will be able to be identified ahead of the planned repatriation from Lagos to Waterkloof Air force base on Saturday.

At least 70 dead bodies have been identified through DNA, out of the 116 people who died in the tragedy. While 54 of those cleared so far were South Africans, 16 others were Nigerians, Togolese, Beninese and other nationals.

The Presidency said this week all necessary machinery were in place for the smooth repatriation of the corpses to South Africa, adding that two flights were ready for the exercise, with one to convey medical teams, while mortuary trucks would arrive in the second flight.

President Jacob Zuma and the Inter-Ministerial Committee tasked with handling the tragedy will be at Waterkloof on Sunday to receive the bodies. The remains will then be handed over to families for burials in various provinces across the country. –