The remains of the victims of the collapse of a TB Joshua hostel in Nigeria will be repatriated today, November 15, to South Africa.
A high-level team consisting of 80 members from the Department of Health, the South African Police Service and the South African Military Health Service will arrive in Nigeria tonight to begin the process of repatriating the mortal remains of South Africans who died when a guesthouse collapsed in Lagos, Nigeria in September.
The repatriation of the bodies to Pretoria on Saturday will mark an end to the two-month ordeal faced by the families of the victims. The handover of the remains for burial, it is hoped, will begin a period of healing.
The final repatriation of the mortal remains, scheduled to take place on Saturday night follows intensive work by a South African government delegation in Abuja led by Special Envoy to Nigeria and Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe.
Throughout this week, Minister Radebe has held meetings with the Nigerian Federal Government authorities, as well as Lagos State authorities with a view to expedite the repatriation of mortal remains.
The South Africans lost their lives when a multi-storey guesthouse belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed on 12 September. Up to 116 people died in the tragedy, 81 of them South African.
Phumla Williams, spokesperson for the Inter-ministerial Committee that was established to deal with the tragedy, said on Friday that the South African government had now activated its comprehensive repatriation plan.
Two chartered aircraft have been secured for use in the operation.
“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,” Williams said.
Nigerian authorities will on Saturday officially hand over positively identified mortal remains of South Africans to Minister Radebe at the Sam Ethnan Air Force Base, Ikeja, Lagos State.
Among the remains expected to be handed over are three nationals from Zimbabwe and one from the DRC, who were travelling on South African passports.
Formal reception of mortal remains
On Sunday, the South African government will host a formal reception ceremony at the Air Force Base in Waterkloof to receive the mortal remains.
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 and no person without formal accreditation will be allowed to enter the Air Force Base Waterkloof, government said.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on national television.
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,” Williams said.
Government will deploy social workers to continue to provide psychosocial support to the affected families.
Credit: SA News.gov.sa