67 SA pilgrims lost in Lagos collapse

Image by: LUKAS EMMANUEL

Rescuers search the rubble of a collapsed multi-storey guesthouse at Nigerian preacher TB Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations in Lagos. By late yesterday 131 survivors had been accounted for. Scores of others are feared dead.
President Jacob Zuma announced last night that 67 South Africans died in a building collapse in Nigeria’s financial capital Lagos.

President Jacob Zuma announced last night that 67 South Africans died in a building collapse in Nigeria’s financial capital Lagos.

 “I am greatly saddened to announce that 67 South Africans died and scores of others sustained injuries, after a building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed on Friday,” Zuma said in statement to the nation.

Rescuers say the church’s hostel, which housed Nigerian and foreign followers of a popular preacher and televangelist, TB Joshua, had been overburdened by the construction of additional floors.

The number of South African dead exceeds the previously known toll for the disaster, a grim signal that the number of fatalities may rise further.

Zuma said South Africa was grieving after the tragedy nearly a continent away.

“Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country.

“Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues that have lost their loved ones in this heart-breaking tragedy. The whole nation shares the pain of the mothers, fathers, daughters and sons who have lost their loved ones. We are all in grief.”

At least five South African church tour groups are thought to have been at the Joshua church at the time of the collapse.

By last night dozens of bodies had been pulled from the rubble of the building at a compound of Joshua’s church.

The collapse has sparked a social media war as Joshua’s followers rally to his defence as critics apportion blame for the disaster on Friday morning.

South African diplomats and officials of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, have labelled the deaths of South Africans in Nigeria a “catastrophe”.

A source in the department said it had been inundated with calls from frantic relatives.

“It is heartbreaking. Mothers, fathers, children, all are asking about their relatives. They are desperate and their desperation is driven by the fact that we cannot given them answers – we simply don’t have them.”

He said many South Africans who travelled to Nigeria to go to the Synagogue Church of All Nations did so “under the radar”.

“They know the controversy around this man and his church and try to keep their visits a secret – now it’s a catastrophe.”

International Relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said: “The [South African] consul-general and his team are at the church. They are liaising with search and rescue teams, the authorities and church leaders to verify how many South Africans were involved.”

He said officials were in contact with the organisers of groups that travelled to the church.

“We know of at least five South African church tour groups who were at the ‘synagogue’ at the time of the collapse.”

According to insiders, frustrations boiled over as church officials appeared to block rescue efforts, allegedly denying emergency teams and diplomats guest lists and information about the number of people in the building when it collapsed and their nationalities.

The six-storey guesthouse, which was used to accommodate foreign visitors, collapsed on Friday. One hundred and thirty-four survivors have been rescued so far.

On Sunday, Joshua released CCTV video footage and hinted that the collapse was sabotage and possibly terrorism. The suggestion has been dismissed by the Nigerian authorities.

Joshua wrote on his ministry’ s Faceb ook page: “A building, not the church auditorium as was reported. The few people that were there are being rescued. What you wish to others, God wishes to you .”

South African diplomats speaking from Lagos on condition of anonymity were highly critical of the situation.

“There is complete stonewalling,” one said. “There is no information on the number of South Africans dead, hurt or missing. “We are trying hard to find out information, to establish how many South Africans were inside the building, but all that we are told is that it is ‘not that bad’.

“When we got here the entire building was flattened. How can it be not bad?”

“We know that there was a large number of South Africans here, but we have been given nothing beyond that,” said a consular official. “We are not talking about just a handful of people.”

Source: Times LIVE

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