Media release

Update on SA efforts to repatriate mortal remains from Nigeria

06 November 2014

6 November 2014

Almost two months since building collapse tragedy

Our nation will, within the next few days, mark two months since the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) guesthouse building collapse on 12 September 2014. This incident remains one of the worst tragedies in the history of our country since 1994.

It is certainly heart-breaking that the families of the eighty-one (81) South Africans presumed dead continue to wait for their mortal remains to be returned home.

Following this unfortunate incident, the South African government committed itself to work tirelessly to repatriate the injured as well as mortal remains of our deceased citizens from Nigeria back home to South Africa. We remain firmly committed to delivering on that commitment.

The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) that was activated to coordinate various role players and lead technical planning has been sitting daily since 16 September 2014 when we officially learned about the building collapse.

Six injured still receiving treatment
Of the twenty-five (25) injured South Africans who were repatriated, there are only six patients who are still receiving treatment and care at the Steve Biko Academic hospital. The others were discharged from hospital and are now recuperating at home. Government wishes them well as they continue on the path towards recovery and resume their normal lives.

State of readiness for repatriation
While we do not as yet know when the Nigerian authorities will announce the release of the mortal remains positively identified to be South African, we have to maintain high levels of readiness.

To this end, a preparatory team has been deployed to Lagos to lay the foundation for the repatriation of the mortal remains. The team is working closely with the South African High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ambassador Lulu Mnguni and South African Consul General in Lagos, Ambassador Sam Monaisa, to meet all necessary administrative requirements for the repatriation process.

President Zuma appoints Special Envoy
President Jacob Zuma has appointed Minister Jeff Radebe as the South African government Special Envoy to go to Nigeria to engage with Nigerian authorities. Minister Radebe will hold meetings with Nigerian Federal Government authorities as well as Lagos State authorities with a view to expedite the repatriation process. He will in the next few days depart for Nigeria to commence the mission.

Families urged to use of Counselling Services
Families have endured far too much pain during this period of waiting and are thus encouraged to continue to make use of grief counselling services. They should call the Social Development Department’s toll-free number on 0800 428 428.

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

Social Workers will continue to visit families to provide psychosocial support and provide first hand updates to next of kin of South Africans presumed dead.

Government regrets the prolonged period of uncertainty
We would like to commend all affected families for their patience and faith during this painfully long period of waiting. Government regrets that families continue to bear such a long-drawn-out period of uncertainty.

We would like to reassure the families and South Africans at large that government has not taken the foot off the pedal. The repatriation of the mortal remains very high on the government agenda. President Zuma’s appointment of Minister Radebe as South Africa’s Special Envoy demonstrates government’s unwavering commitment return their loved ones home for a proper send off.

Our government will continue to work around the clock to ensure that the mortal remains of all South Africans that are positively identified and released by Nigerian Authorities are returned home.

Government thanks the people of South Africa
Government thanks the people of South Africa, churches and various other formations who continue to extend a comforting hand and support to the affected families and communities during this difficult time. Let us please not become tired of providing comfort and support to the affected families.

We also wish to express our appreciation to the Nigerian authorities for their cooperation in ensuring that the identification thus far and repatriation of the injured and deceased South Africans was done in a professional and cordial manner.

Government also thanks members of the media for their support and continuously keeping South Africans informed about our efforts to bring our people home. We will continue to use our official channels to keep the media updated.

Lastly, we would like to once again thank President Zuma for his leadership on this matter, the Inter-Ministerial Task Team, and the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) for their unwavering stewardship that has taken us this far.

Thank you!

Phumla Williams
Cell: 083 501 0139

Issued by the Department of Communications (DOC)

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