Media release

South African repatriation team heads to Nigeria

14 November 2014

14 November 2014

SA repatriation team heads to Nigeria

The South African Special Envoy to Nigeria, Minister Jeff Radebe, held meetings with the Nigerian Federal Government authorities, as well as Lagos State authorities with a view to expedite the repatriation of mortal remains of South Africans who lost their lives in the guesthouse collapse tragedy. Following these engagements, an announcement was made regarding the release of the identified mortal remains of South Africans.  The South African government has now activated its comprehensive repatriation plan. 

A Mass Body Repatriation Team consisting of 87 specialist members from the Department of Health, the South African Police Service and the South African Military Health Service will today leave South Africa for Nigeria to begin the process of repatriating the mortal remains.

Amongst the 87 team members of the Mass Body Repatriation Team are the following officials:

• A Command Element to control the total operation;
• A victim identification specialist grouping;
• A Chaplain that will accompany the bodies;
• Environmental Health Officers to supervise control measures to protect staff and ensure adherence to Port Health Regulations;
• Forensic Pathology Officers from various Provinces that will manage and prepare the bodies for repatriation;
• Warrant Officers to coordinate actions at the mortuaries; and
• Operational Emergency Care Practitioners that will execute decontamination procedures.

Two charter aircraft have been secured for use in this operation. The first aircraft is a passenger plane that will transport the Mass Body Repatriation Team, as well as other role players.  The second aircraft is an Antonov 124 cargo plane that will transport eight vehicles and specialised equipment. Amongst the eight vehicles to be transported by the Antonov are four Forensic Pathology Trucks from the Department of Health that are specifically designed to handle bodies in disaster situations. The Forensic Pathology Trucks have sufficient capacity to transport all identified bodies at the right conditions.

Upon touching down in Lagos, the team will be split into three groups and each will simultaneously work on the preparation of the mortal remains at the three mortuaries. To provide additional working space for the repatriation teams at the mortuaries, inflatable air conditioned tents, from the Military Health Service, will also be transported to Nigeria.

Due to the number of the deceased, and the time period since the incident, the repatriation will be carried out in line with strict procedures to ensure that the mortal remains are repatriated in a dignified manner while also taking appropriate precautions.  Health and safety regulations and procedures will be also followed to safeguard the family members, as well as staff members against any potential risks.

Official Send-off

Nigerian authorities will on Saturday 15 November 2014 officially handover positively identified mortal remains of South Africans to Minister Radebe at the Sam Ethnan Air Force Base, Ikeja, Lagos State, Nigeria. Amongst the remains expected to be handed over to Minister Radebe are those of four nationals of our neighbouring countries who have requested South Africa to assist them: Zimbabwe (3) and DRC (1). This event will be held prior to the trucks driving into the Antonov cargo plane for the flight back home to South Africa.

The Antonov, as well as the passenger aircraft, will depart from Nigeria on the evening of Saturday 15 November 2014 and are expected to arrive home in South Africa on the morning of Sunday 16 November 2014. The deceased’s luggage will be loaded onto the aircraft and returned to South Africa. Information about how the next-of-kin may claim the luggage will be communicated directly with affected families.

Formal Reception of Mortal Remains

The South African government will on Sunday 16 November 2014 host a formal reception ceremony at the Air Force Base Waterkloof to receive the mortal remains of our departed compatriots. Social workers from the Department of Social Development are in continuous engagement with the families regarding the logistics around their participation in the formal reception. The event is strictly per invitation. No person without formal accreditation will be allowed to enter the Air Force Base Waterkloof.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on national television, and South Africans are encouraged to watch.

Private funerals

At the end of the formal reception ceremony, the mortal remains will be transported by road to the closest government Forensic Pathology Services mortuaries in the different provinces. From there the mortal remains will be transported to the Government Mortuary closest to the place of burial where they will be received by their next-of-kin. Individual families will proceed with their own private funeral arrangements. The Department of Health will guide the family-appointed private Funeral Directors on how to manage the remains in line with the relevant health protocols.

Once again, out of concern for secondary trauma to the families, as well as public health considerations, families are discouraged from viewing the mortal remains.

Government will deploy social workers to continue to provide psychosocial support to the affected families.

For more information visit:

Phumla Williams
Spokeswoman for the Inter-Ministerial Task Team
Cell: 083 501 0139           

Issued by Department of Communications (DoC) on behalf of  The Inter- Ministerial Task Team on the Nigeria tragedy

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