SA ready to receive bodies of fallen

Thursday, November 13, 2014

By Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Performance, Monitoring, Evaluation and Administration, Jeff Radebe

On September 12 the lives of countless South Africans were forever transformed when a multi-storey guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria, collapsed.

This unprecedented tragedy claimed the lives of several South Africans and has severely impacted the psyche of our nation. As always after such a devastating event there is a search for answers, for closure and a quest for healing.

The first step in the healing process began when 26 injured South Africans were repatriated from Nigeria.  Currently only six patients are still receiving treatment at the Steve Biko Academic hospital, with the rest having been discharged and reunited with their families. 

The government is heartened that we were able to reunite those who were injured with their families; we however know that there will only be closure and healing when the remains of those who died are returned.

Much work has already been done to make this a reality and all preparations are in place to transport the remains back home.  Representatives at our High Commission in Nigeria and our Consul-General in Lagos are liaising with the Nigerian authorities to ensure that this happens as speedily as possible.

The government is aware that the families are desperate to bury their loved ones and we want to assure all South Africans that we are doing all we can to get them back home as soon as is possible. However, we await the go-ahead from the Nigerian authorities. 

The identification process has been especially trying and time-consuming as fingerprinting has been difficult in some cases. The Nigerian authorities instead are using DNA to match the remains of those who died.   

I was recently tasked by President Jacob Zuma, as his special envoy, to meet with the Nigerian government and Lagos State authorities to expedite the process. I am seized with this work and I must emphasise that we are working with Nigerian authorities to ensure  the proper identification and repatriation of the deceased South Africans is finalised. 

At this time of great sorrow for so many of our fellow countrymen and women such reassurances might ring hollow.  The government knows that those who lost their loved ones will only begin to heal once they have bid farewell to their next of kin in a dignified and solemn manner. 

I want to reassure South Africans and the families of those who were injured and those who died that government is doing all it can  to get our fallen countrymen and women back home. 

Our efforts are being led by the Inter-Ministerial Task Team, which was formed shortly after the tragedy. This team has mobilised government resources to support the families and continues to do whatever is necessary to manage the impact of the tragedy.

In addition, the National Joint Operation Centre (NATJOC), which co-ordinates various role players and leads the technical planning of the repatriation, have been meeting daily since September 16.

All our preparations are now in place and government stands ready to receive the remains of those who died.  Once the green light is given by the Nigerian authorities a special flight will depart from Air Force Base Waterkloof for the repatriation. 

We continue to liaise with the next of kin and plans are in place to ensure that they receive the remains at Air Force Base Waterkloof. 

The government is well aware of the frustration of families waiting for the return of their loved ones. Therefore we dare not forget about the pain and anguish of the living; as such social workers from the Department of Social Development continue to visit families to provide them with updates and psycho-social support.

Once the repatriation is underway and the timelines have been confirmed government will notify the nation of the homecoming of those who died.

Ultimately we want to reunite the families with their loved ones as soon as we can, therefore government will ensure that the remains of the deceased are transported back to their respective home provinces. 

The government is confident that this sad chapter in our young democracy is coming to an end; we are moving ever closer to securing the repatriation. We call on the nation to remain strong in this time of great sorrow and to take solace in the knowledge that we will bring our countrymen and women home.


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