SA, Nigeria cooperate in building collapse tragedy

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pretoria – Minister in The Presidency and chair of the Inter-Ministerial Task Team on the Nigeria tragedy, Jeff Radebe, says authorities in Nigeria and South Africa remain committed to identifying the deceased and assisting the survivors of last Friday’s building collapse.

The Minister was updating the media on the latest developments since the collapse of the Synagogue Church of All Nations building in Lagos.

“We can assure you that the South African Government is working around the clock, together with the Nigerian Government and the leadership of the church -- through the South African High Commission and Consulate-General in Nigeria -- to assist survivors and to recover, identify and confirm the deceased.

“South Africa has dispatched assessment, medical, forensic, social development and disaster management teams in this regard,” said Minister Radebe.

A South African team, which is in Nigeria, has confirmed that at the time of the incident, there were a total of 349 South Africans in Lagos visiting the church.

As of Thursday evening, the total number of unaccounted for South Africans and presumably deceased remains at 84.

Minister Radebe said, however, that this figure remains tentative, as it is still subject to confirmation through forensic tests. 

“As soon as our team on the ground has completed the verification, we will know exactly how many South Africans have perished,” said Minister Radebe.

The assessment team is focusing on body recovery and repatriation, victims listing and confirmation, post-mortems as well as assessing the injured to determine their medical condition and the required levels of care.

The team deployed to Lagos comprises internationally acclaimed experts in the field of forensic science and disaster management. A leading member of the team is Brigadier Helena Ras, Head of Technology Management, Criminal Records and Forensic Sciences.

Ras is an international expert on body identification and she has consulted internationally on disaster management, Minister Radebe said. 

Regular updates

The South African assessment team in Lagos reports to the Inter-Ministerial Task Team through the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS).

NATJOINTS is the operational structure of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cabinet Cluster, which consists of all JCPS member departments such as SAPS, SA National Defence Force, Justice and Correctional Services, National Prosecuting Authority, Home Affairs, Social Development, Health, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs and State Security.

NATJOINTS has activated all its nine Provincial Operation Centres to directly liaise with the affected families.

NATJOINTS meets twice daily to assess information received from the team deployed in Nigeria and to give direction.

The Department of Social Development has dispatched teams to give psychosocial support to the families of the injured and deceased. Other teams are on stand-by around the country and will be activated as victims are confirmed and their families are notified. 

Currently, a team of social workers has been dispatched to OR Tambo International Airport, where it has been providing support to families awaiting the return of their loved ones, as well as South Africans returning from Nigeria.

Another team of social workers has been assigned to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to offer support to the families, who arrive to make enquiries about their family members.

“We are aware that this is a difficult period of uncertainty for the nation, particularly for the families, friends and colleagues of those directly affected.

“Due to the nature and extent of the tragedy, the process of identifying the mortal remains requires meticulous attention to detail, and Government is confident that the team assigned to carry out this task has the necessary capacity and skill.

“Meanwhile, we call for patience on the publication of victims’ names while the due processes are followed,” said Minister Radebe.

Family members have been contacted and arrangements have been put in place for them to participate in the identification process of the deceased. Only after this process has been completed can the names of the deceased be released to the families.

The Government call centre dedicated to the disaster -- 012 351 1000 -- continues to provide information to affected families and friends. It also relays information from the families to the mission in Nigeria. 

Government has put in place services to help survivors and the affected families during this difficult time. This includes counselling and support services, medical assessment and care, and transport, among others.

Minister Radebe said they will provide regular updates based on information drawn from the teams to the public and affected citizens in Nigeria and at home, as the information becomes available. –