Media release

Update on efforts to repatriate mortal remains of deceased South Africans from Nigeria

28 September 2014

 28 September 2014

Government sympathises with the next of kin, relatives, friends and communities of the deceased South Africans who lost their lives at the Synagogue Church of all Nations in Lagos, Nigeria, on 12 September 2014. We would like to assure them that we understand their frustration and anguish of waiting for their loved ones to be returned home for a proper send-off.

We have reached a critical milestone in the identification of mortal remains. The capturing of fingerprints on 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. 

Once the comparison of fingerprints is completed, and identification is confirmed we will be assured that we will be handing over the correct remains 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 thus far, we have established that four of the remains are not South African citizens.  Three are citizens of Zimbabwe and another one is from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

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.

Each mass disaster situation is unique with its own specific set of challenges. It is important to note that this particular disaster occurred outside our country.  It happened in the sovereign country of Nigeria, in the State of Lagos. Therefore, the processes have to be carried out in terms of Nigerian laws. 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 perished in the incident. Let us therefore all prepare ourselves for a process that may go on for a while longer than we would have wished.

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.

The Department of Social Development is in constant communication with the families to update them on the progress made and provide trauma counselling when needed. Part of what was communicated to the families is that, due to the scale of the disaster, passage of time 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 properly equipped for this task. Government has identified appropriate facilities where the mortal remains would be taken to upon arrival; and it is at these facilities where families will receive the mortal remains.

Government will continue to give regular information updates as and when more information becomes available.

We once again urge those who require the assistance of a grief counsellor to call the Social Development toll-free number: 0800 428 428.

They can alternatively send a “please call me” to: *120*7867#. Professional counsellors will call back.

Government wishes the affected families continued comfort and strength during this difficult period.

We wish to assure the families, friends and communities of the deceased that they are not alone; the thoughts and prayers of the whole nation are with them. 

We will not rest until their loved ones are repatriated back home.


Phumla Williams
Cell: 083 501 0139

Issued by Government Communication (GCIS) on behalf of  the Inter-Ministerial Task Team on the Nigeria tragedy  


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